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Lawyer warns on dangers of digital signatures

Miranda Brownlee
25 February 2016 — 1 minute read

One industry lawyer has said that using digital signatures to execute trust deeds in some of the eastern states does not comply with the law and could render the super fund non-complying.

Speaking to SMSF Adviser, Townsends Business and Corporate Lawyers principal Peter Townsend said research from the law firm indicates that in NSW, Victoria and Queensland it is not possible to digitally sign a deed in purely electronic format, and that it must be done in hard copy.

“Those people who have been offered or have taken up an offer to set up their super fund uber quickly because they’ve signed it online, will find that their document is invalid,” said Mr Townsend.


If a deed is found to be invalid, then the court could take the view that there is an “oral trust” in place, Mr Townsend explained.

“If the deed they signed is invalid, there is just an oral trust; it’s a real trust but it’s not necessarily on the terms of trust deed, and almost certainly wouldn’t comply with the SIS Act.”

There would be very substantial taxation issues arising from this, he warned, because the fund would not meet the requirements to get the tax concessions.

Mr Townsend said the legislation around documents and signatures might be something that the government needs to examine, and that the regulator needs to look at and review in the meantime.

“Now, unfortunately, the laws that I’m talking about are state laws, so they’ll need to be amended in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.”

There is also a chance that the trustees signing these trust deeds electronically could take legal action against the provider of the trust deed, if they face significant taxation consequences.

“I would think where this has been offered, there’s been a representation that the fund deed will be compliant with the SIS Act, and that representation [might be] proven to be inaccurate,” Mr Townsend said.

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Miranda Brownlee

Miranda Brownlee


Miranda Brownlee is the deputy editor of SMSF Adviser, which is the leading source of news, strategy and educational content for professionals working in the SMSF sector.

Since joining the team in 2014, Miranda has been responsible for breaking some of the biggest superannuation stories in Australia, and has reported extensively on technical strategy and legislative updates. Miranda has also directed SMSF Adviser's print publication for several years. 

Miranda also has broad business and financial services reporting experience, having written for titles including Investor Daily, ifa and Accountants Daily.

You can email Miranda on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lawyer warns on dangers of digital signatures
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