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ATO open to digital signature use

ATO digital signature

The ATO has stated a digital signature was acceptable for use on SMSF financial statements where trustees could not meet due to social distancing measures

Trustees can use a digital signature to sign their SMSF’s financial statements if they are unable to sign their documents in person due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ATO has confirmed.

In an update on its website, the regulator stated the use of a digital signature was an option for SMSF trustees unable to sign their fund’s financial statements in person because of social distancing requirements as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Alternative options available for signing the financial statements consist of returning a signed scanned copy to your tax agent or accountant by email or using an electronic signature such as a digital signature,” the ATO noted.

“Digital signatures should be provided using a secure system, typically through an established third-party provider, in a way that clearly identifies the trustee signing and indicates the approval you are providing.”

It also reminded trustees they could sign and return their financial statements to their accountant or tax agent via post. The signature requirement for SMSF financial statements would not be met if the trustee only acknowledged the documents by email or over the phone, it added.

Noting the impact of social distancing measures on signing and witnessing SMSF legal documents, Smarter SMSF chief executive Aaron Dunn highlighted the New South Wales government’s recent introduction of a temporary regulation, under the Electronic Transactions Act 2000, intended to assist with the legal documentation process during the pandemic.

“The new law requires a witness to sight a person signing the document in ‘real-time’ to confirm the legitimacy of the signature, which now allows through the use of videoconferencing technology (for example, Skype, Zoom, et cetera),” Dunn said in a blog post on the Smarter SMSF website.

In addition, Cooper Grace Ward lawyers Katelyn Gillert and Hayley Mitchell pointed to the COVID-19 Emergency Bill 2020, recently passed by the Queensland parliament, which allows remote witnessing of documents.

“The Queensland regulations may also apply to the witnessing of superannuation binding nominations. However, the New South Wales regulations do not,” Gillert and Mitchell said in a blog post on the Cooper Grace Ward website.

Last week, SMSF legal firm DBA Lawyers said it would release a new SMSF trust deed that would allow fund trustees to execute a binding death benefit nomination without the need to have two witnesses present during its signing.

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