With couples re-partnering on multiple occasions during their lifetimes, the legal implications for structuring their affairs are now more complex than ever. Claims are able to be made not only between the couple themselves but by extended family members.
Multiple pieces of legislation in the event of separation, death or incapacity come into play. Relationship property law interrelates with a host of other legislation such as the Family Proceedings Act 1980; The Family Protection Act 1955; The Law Reform (Testamentary Promises) Act 1949 and The Trustee Act 1956. The legislation is also evolving, with reviews of the Property (Relationships) Act and Trustee Act currently taking place.
It is no longer sufficient to rely on a single document to order your affairs – such as a contracting out agreement under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 – on the assumption that it will suffice. Failure to seek advice on estate planning in conjunction with such agreements will potentially undermine the agreements themselves. Seeking specialist legal advice prior to undertaking any major changes in your life – or as soon as possible when circumstances suddenly change – will go a long way towards preventing costly mistakes and distressing disputes in the future.
It’s also important to consider the impact on your loved ones of not having put your affairs in order prior to your death or incapacity. Standard requirements for most include:
- An up-to-date will with a memorandum of wishes
- Enduring powers of attorney to deal with your personal care and welfare and property in the event that you are incapacitated
- A well-managed trust that is not open to question, together with a relationship property agreement.
Storing key documents together in a secure place where your relatives will know how to find them, together with a list of assets and liabilities (updated from time to time) will alleviate worries at a time when they are grieving. Many lawyers these days use “cloud” technology which enables them to store copies of your key documents and deeds (if not entire files) in perpetuity.
Cushla Webster, Devonport Law