Once your real estate agent has listed your property for sale, it can take weeks, or even months, to receive an offer. Many of our clients either travel for work or have vacations which have been planned long in advance of their sale. It can be difficult or impossible to put off these travel plans, and most clients don’t want to anyways. Luckily, so long as you have access to the internet, most documents you will need to sign with your Realtor® can be completed electronically.
The legal documents to complete your sale, however, are a different story. These cannot be signed electronically – original documents must be completed in front of a lawyer or notary public. If you are in a foreign country, these documents must be couriered back to Canada prior to completion of your transaction.
We recently had a retired client whose son was selling their condominium in Calgary. Our client assisted their son when he bought the condo by co-signing the mortgage and going on title. When the property was listed, our client went on a three-month trip to Mexico, while the son stayed in Calgary. An offer came in and was accepted, and the sale was set to close before our client was scheduled to return from their holiday. Our client mistakenly thought they could sign their legal documents electronically. Therefore, our client had to attempt to find a lawyer to have the legal documents correctly signed in Mexico.
At a minimum, the foreign lawyer must provide certified copies of your identification to your Canadian lawyer and notarize your signature on the transfer of land document. This is the instrument that provides title to your property to the buyer. The Alberta Land Titles Office requires the notarization of the Transfer of Land be done in a very specific way. If done incorrectly, the document will be rejected by the Alberta Land Titles Office and your transaction will not go through.
Our client sought out a lawyer in Mexico. Unfortunately, the Mexican lawyer indicated that they were unable to follow our signing instructions exactly, due to their own specific rules for notarization. Our client tried three other lawyers/notaries and received the same story. Unfortunately, in the end our client had no choice but to interrupt their holiday and fly back to Calgary to sign the Transfer of Land document.
Luckily, this can be avoided by completing a Specific Power of Attorney prior to your departure. This document appoints an individual to act on your behalf, specifically for the sale of your property. This individual can then instruct the Realtor® and lawyer on your sale, sign the Transfer of Land and other documents on your behalf, and handle the funds once complete. The Attorney is usually a spouse, sibling, parent or other trustworthy friend or family member. By having a Specific Power of Attorney, you can avoid the pitfalls of finding a foreign notary and the risk and expense of having to return to Canada if there are issues with signing the required documents. If you are listing your property and know you will be away for an extended period, we would highly recommend contacting your lawyer to have a Specific Power of Attorney completed well ahead of your departure.
In this, the fifth instalment of our series with Dan Hawkwood — an Associate Lawyer at Beaumont Church LLP in Calgary — Dan explains the process for signing various documents while clients are travelling. Dan comes from a long line of farmers and ranchers in the Calgary area and brings the experience of his rural upbringing to his practice.