New Zealand Law Society - Passion for probate leads to Trans-Tasman webinar

Passion for probate leads to Trans-Tasman webinar

Passion for probate leads to Trans-Tasman webinar
Wellington lawyer Jenny Lowe

Wellington based lawyer Jenny Lowe will be taking part in a Trans-Tasman webinar on electronic signing, witnessing and probate during COVID. She tells us about her passion for probate.

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Self-confessed probate superfan Jenny Lowe can get anyone excited about this medieval process. So much so, that the Wellington based lawyer has been invited to be part of the panel in a Trans-Tasman webinar for lawyers about electronic signing with a focus on probate practice as well as estate planning such as wills and enduring powers of attorney.

“It was one of my colleagues here at Morrison Kent who volunteered me for the seminar. I clearly talk about probate far too much,” laughs Jenny.

To be fair, within moments of speaking to Jenny her enthusiasm for probate shines through and is, quite frankly, infectious.

“It’s such a complex but little known area of the law. Probate (and its related applications for letters of administration and reseal) is the only surviving vestige of the medieval writ system.

“The writ system means that you have to execute the application exactly how the precedent says. If you put a comma instead of a full stop, in the old system that would be your entire application thrown out! (Fortunately, now the probate department just points it out to you for correction) They are pretty serious about it, too. Once I had an application returned to me for incorrect page numbering (although to be fair it had a few other issues as well as the page numbering)!”

On top of dealing with the need for such precision Jenny likes to add another lawyer of complexity by working across international borders.

“International probate applications cover people who lived and died in another country but have assets in New Zealand. It’s surprisingly common as a lot of people want to invest in our beautiful country, but many of them don’t live (or die) here.

“Signing the documentation for the application has to be done in person which can involve quite complex instructions. Doing this for overseas clients means sometimes having to work through translators. I had to get documents signed by several different parties in Korea last week which was a challenge as the only person (other than me) in the entire transaction who spoke English was my longsuffering client, and in Korea, they sign documentation with beautiful personalised stamps and in a completely different way than we do here.”

So how did Jenny navigate the Covid lockdowns around the world?

“Every country had a different way of working, although in most countries in-person signings were a no-go zone. We just had to wait for lockdowns to lift. Our probate unit worked tirelessly to make plans and give special dispensations on a case by case basis for urgent applications and of course the emergency legislation was a great help as well. I had one client stuck in Thailand unexpectedly, and I was able to witness his affidavit over a video call – a very unusual and interesting experience for us both.

“In fact, in Australia some people are lobbying to see if they can have some of this flexibility on a more long-term basis, which makes sense given they have had ongoing lockdowns.

“But with the use of new technologies comes the need for caution,” adds Jenny.

“People laugh about the probate system with its checks and balances driving them crazy (so much so that I even run a service doing probates for other lawyers who either don’t do them often or simply can’t stand them) but those procedures have been put into place over hundreds of years and they’re all there for a reason. It’s to make sure the wishes of the dead are obeyed; they can’t speak for themselves anymore. If we are to make any move towards electronic signing, it has to provide a home for each and every one of these important procedures and traditions.”

Jenny acknowledges that change is coming, partly just due to the ways of the world and partly to do with the challenges of Covid, and this webinar will be a great opportunity to join in the conversation about what that change will look like.

“I’m excited to hear more about the Australian experience of Covid and probate during the webinar. There will even be a “town hall” part of the session where everyone can raise their hand and ask questions and make comments. I think we can all learn something from each other.”

Electronic Signing, Witnessing & Probate during COVID: Vitoria, a Case Study is on 18 February 8pm-9:30pm NZ time and is free to join.