Coronavirus – A note from the Directors

Given the spread of the coronavirus (“Covid-19” ) and the public health emergency that it has
created, like many other organisations, Bowen Buchbinder Vilensky (BBV) is taking active steps to
help ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of our people and clients.

To support the health and wellbeing of our people, clients and the community around us, our
professional and support staff are currently working remotely from home.

While we are working remotely, to the fullest extent possible it will be business as usual in terms of
our professional services and our client service. We are still ready, willing and able to take on new
clients. While we cannot meet you in person, we are still able to conduct consultations with video
conferencing technology. Our current platform of choice is Zoom.

We have taken steps to ensure we have the training, technology, and support in place to assist our
staff working from home for an extended period.

Our office at Level 14, 251 Adelaide Terrace, Perth is currently closed. However, please continue to
call us on (08) 9325 9644 and you will be directed to whichever member of our team you wish to
speak to in the usual way.

These are indeed challenging and uncertain times but for us at BBV it is business as usual, and we
will be doing our best to continue to provide our range of legal services.

Owning Properties in Different Countries – Heirs and Places

In today’s globalised world, an increasing number of people own real estate in more than one country at any one time.

As a result, there has been an increase in the number of people who have both an Australian Will and a Will in a foreign country to dispose of real estate owned by them. The intention (subject to the manner in which the Wills are drafted) is usually for the foreign Will to dispose of real estate in that foreign country and for the Australian Will to dispose of all other assets of that person.

However, if you first make an Australian Will that only deals with your assets in Australia, and later make a second foreign Will that states that it revokes all previous Wills and deals solely with your real estate in that other country, what is the status of your Australian Will? Has your Australian Will been revoked by the later foreign Will?

This interesting predicament has been considered by the Australian Courts, which have set out principles to reduce the uncertainty that this creates and have determined that the question of whether a later Will revokes an earlier Will ultimately depends on the intention of the Will-maker: did he or she intend to revoke the earlier Will?

In Australia, in so far as real estate is concerned, such issues are generally referred to the law of the place where that real estate is situated (the legal principle of ‘lex situs’).

It has also been recognised since the 19th century that a general revocation clause in a Will (e.g., ‘I hereby revoke all Wills heretofore made by me and declare this to be my last Will’) is not sufficient of itself to revoke a prior Will if the Court is satisfied that the Will-maker did not intend by the later Will to revoke the earlier Will.

In determining the intention of the Will-maker, the Courts will look at a variety of factors, including:

  • whether the Australian Will deals only with your Australian estate;
  • whether the foreign Will deals only with your real estate in the foreign country;
  • whether the later Will is sufficient by its terms to cause a revocation of the earlier Will (which is a question of interpretation of the foreign Will by the Courts);
  • whether the foreign Will was ever intended to affect the Australian Will (which is to be determined as a matter of evidence according to Australian probate law);
  • whether the foreign Will was made in the language of that country and not in English; and
  • the terms of both Wills and the circumstances of their execution and signing.

The practical significance of this is that, if you own assets in Australia and also own foreign real estate, it is imperative that you obtain competent estate planning advice so as to avoid the risk that, at a later time, either your Australian or your foreign Will is deemed to have been revoked, when your intention and estate planning objectives may be clearly otherwise.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter or your estate planning objectives further.

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Choose Now Whilst You Can! – Your Future Decision Makers

Most of us are aware that a Will is a document that captures our wishes for the disposition of our assets (amongst other matters) once we die. It is not common knowledge, however, that there are also documents that one can execute in order to preserve our wishes for when we are still alive.

These documents are called an Enduring Power of Attorney, Enduring Power of Guardianship and Advanced Health Directive (sometimes called a Living Will).

For anyone who is addressing their estate planning objectives (and that should be all of us) it is important to consider the protection of your person and estate during your lifetime, as well as considering what happens to your assets once you die. To only execute a Will, and not consider what measures you take to protect the estate during your lifetime, is only addressing part of your estate plan.

Enduring Power of Attorney

An Enduring Power of Attorney allows you to appoint a person that you trust implicitly (usually a spouse or a child) to have authority to deal with your financial affairs.

This means that your ‘attorney’ (the person you appoint) has the authority to deal with your assets as if they were standing in your shoes. Your attorney may access your bank accounts, investments and (if you lodge the document with Landgate) deal with your real estate, if you ever lost the capacity to do so yourself.

Although this may not seem rational in reality, provided that your attorney is a reliable person to be given such a power, it is an important document that may assist you in times of emergency. If you were ever in a position where you could not make decisions for yourself, and you have outstanding financial obligations that need to be addressed, your attorney may step in and address those requirements on your behalf.

An Enduring Power of Attorney will provide you peace of mind in knowing that in a time of crisis, your financial obligations are being attended to by someone you trust and in whom we you have confidence.

Enduring Power of Guardianship

This document is similar to an Enduring Power of Attorney, however it relates to health and lifestyle decisions only. When you have capacity, you are able to make decisions relating to your own health and treatment and lifestyle decisions. For example, where you live, what medical treatment you undertake or what entertainment you will enjoy, etc.

Should you become incapacitated, you will have selected the person whom you trust to make these decisions on your behalf.

Although you may think that this document is unnecessary and when the time comes your family will be able to make those decisions for you, it is important to remember that decisions of these nature are particularly personal and you must consider reasonably whether it would be prudent to appoint particular people to preserve your wishes regarding your health and lifestyle.

Advance Health Directive

An Advance Health Directive is a document in which you set out, in advance, what treatment decisions you choose in certain circumstances where you cannot communicate those decisions at the time. The types of treatment decisions set out in these documents relate to the situation where you may be on life support or in a vegetative state. You may set out that you consent to, or do not consent to, treatments such as resuscitation, artificial feeding, blood transfusion, and similar treatments.

Your treatment decisions in your Advanced Health Directive must be followed by a medical practitioner and you therefore control the way you are treated in the event that you require life sustaining measures to be kept alive.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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The Curse of Homemade Wills

In today’s economy, people aim to save and avoid unnecessary costs and expenses. Some consider that one such unnecessary expense is instructing a solicitor to draft your Will. This suggestion may stem from the belief held by some that we are all able to write our own Wills (particularly if our affairs are simple) without any legal assistance or we can simply purchase a cheap ‘will-kit’ from the post office or local newsagency, in which all that has to be done is to fill in the blank spaces and to sign it.

There are, however, numerous risks associated with this course of action. These risks were clearly identified in the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in Rogers v Rogers Young [2016] WASC 208. In this case, the Testatrix (‘Will-maker’) utilised a ‘will kit’, which is a type of homemade Will that can be purchased from most post offices and newsagencies. In her Will, the Will-maker gave the residue of her Estate to her daughter (her only child), and stated that in the event that her daughter were to predecease her, then the Will-maker’s nieces and nephews were to inherit her Estate. However, the Will also stipulated that, if at the time of her death any beneficiary of the Will was under the age of 18 years, then that beneficiary’s share would be held on trust for that beneficiary’s support, welfare and education until they reach the age of 25 years. As it turned out, at the time of the Will-maker’s death, her daughter who was to inherit her Estate was 16 years old (thereby being a minor). This meant that, on the face of the Will, a trust would need be administered for the daughter’s benefit until she reaches 25 years of age. However, as was mentioned in this case, it has been settled law since the middle of the 19th century that if the beneficiary of a trust is over the age of 18 years and has an absolute vested and indefeasible interest in that trust, then he or she can request that the trust be terminated and the trust property be transferred to him or her.

Given the legal uncertainty which arose from the Will, the Executor of the Will made an application to the Supreme Court, seeking directions from the Court as to the proper interpretation of the Will pursuant to s 45 of the Administration Act 1903(WA) and s 92 of the Trustees Act 1962 (WA).

Ultimately, the Court held that the daughter acquired an absolute vested and indefeasible interest in the trust property upon reaching the age of 18 years and not 25 years, despite the apparent intentions of the mother that her daughter should not receive the residuary estate until she has reached the age of 25 years.

In this decision, the Court made the following damning observation about homemade wills:

On numerous occasions when dealing with so-called homemade wills, I have observed they are a curse. Homemade wills which utilise what is sometimes known as a ‘will kit’ are not much better. This case proves the point. The disposition effected by the will is not complicated and no doubt the testator had clearly in mind what she intended to achieve. But the way the will is drafted is difficult, and the parties have been put to the trouble and expense of coming to the court seeking directions as to its proper interpretation. If the will had been drafted by a competent legal practitioner, this problem would not have arisen and the parties would have been spared a great deal of trouble and expense.

This case, therefore, highlights the problems that arise if people decide to draft their own Wills, namely:

  • Uncertainty as to the meaning of certain words or clauses in the Will, which leads to a dispute as to its proper interpretation;
  • The time and expense of having to go to Court in order for the Court to determine the correct and proper interpretation of the Will;
  • The risk that the Court might declare that the clause in question (or possibly the entire Will) is void or inoperable, giving rise to a partial or full intestacy, which means that that part of the Estate which was dealt with under the inoperable clause will now have to be determined under the intestacy rules in the Administration Act 1903 (WA); and
  • The risk that the testamentary wishes of the Will-maker may not be given effect to.

It is therefore self evident that the benefits of avoiding the ‘curse’ by having an experienced estate planning lawyer draft your Will and effectively arrange your estate planning objectives greatly outweighs the potential consequences of not doing so.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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Marriage Breakdown – Keeping it in the Right Perspective

Separation and relationship breakdown is one of the most difficult situations that a person can find themselves in, even if it is not apparent from the outset.  Unfortunately, the majority of cases involve litigants who are usually at one of the most vulnerable points of their life.

It is of utmost importance to maintain perspective and composure in legal disputes. This is particularly in the case in family law matters.

In the case of parenting disputes involving the care and custody of children, lawyers are increasingly being retained to assist a party where the primary issue of dispute between the parties relates to their level of communication and understanding of their respective situations. Obviously, there are those cases where, due to issues such as family and domestic violence, addiction, use of illicit drugs, or mental health issues, the parties are unlikely to be able to effectively communicate with each other concerning their dispute.

It is important in all cases that the parties assess their ability to effectively communicate with each other, even on the smallest of levels, and take steps to address those issues.

There are also an increasing number of parenting matters where the parties have engaged one or more other professionals to assist them in resolving their legal dispute. In particular, the use of family counselling to provide therapeutic intervention for the parties themselves (and with the children if that is what is recommended as necessary and agreed by the parties) seems to be steadily rising.

The Family Court has the power to order family counselling in certain circumstances.

There are a variety of private and public services that are available for parties to consider that are available to teach strategies, not only individually, but as parents together, to assist in improving their communication and understanding.

It is also particularly helpful for parties to consider individual counselling in this regard, if they consider that they need assistance in maintaining their perspective, or indeed to assist them in dealing with issues that may pose a risk to the children.

It is also important to consider issues of a practical nature, which will impact the legal ramifications of their dispute.

A good example is in financial and property settlement cases involving clients who retain lawyers on the basis that an agreement has been reached with their spouse in the absence of legal, or other professional, advice. The current economic climate, and particularly the real property market, has created numerous problems with parties who are attempting a series of complex property transfers and refinancing in order to implement their agreements.

In the midst of all the tension and angst and possible relief of the parties in agreeing in principle, it is necessary for the parties to consider, as the initial step, whether or not the property transfers are able to proceed by giving due consideration to the practical hurdles and consequences, such as the overall ability to refinance and possible capital gains tax consequences on investment properties. This may mean that retention of property in a settlement may not be possible.

The above issues also highlight the importance of taking professional advice in your legal dispute at an early stage.  An experienced family lawyer will be able to raise these issues with you, and discuss with you options to address these issues and the benefits and detriments to you in your family law case.  They should also be able to assist by referring you to other professionals to provide assistance in family counselling, or the accounting, taxation or other financial advice that may be required.

It is important to seek such advice early on in the piece as this will greatly benefit you in your negotiations with the other side, whether they are conducted directly, or with the assistance of legal representation.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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Blended Complications – Tetris for Estate Planners

Today, there are increasing numbers of blended families, which often causes confusion and concern when decisions must be made as to who will be provided for in a Will and in what proportions. The definition of a child in the eyes of the law obviously includes biological children. However, it also includes adopted children. Therefore, any such “child” has standing to bring a claim against their deceased parent’s Estate.

An example of a child’s right to adequate provision under a parent’s Will is the decision of Mead v Lemon [2015] WASC 71 which saw the Supreme Court of Western Australia determine that $25 million was adequate provision for mining heiress Olivia Mead – the daughter of mining magnate Michael Wright (“the deceased”) – who commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court under the Family Provision Act 1972 (WA) for further provision from her late father’s Will.

In this case, the deceased died on 26 April 2012. The deceased married four times in his life. He had three children from one marriage and Olivia (his youngest child) was the result of a relationship the deceased had with Olivia’s mother. Olivia’s mother and the deceased never married.  In the deceased’s Will, Olivia was to inherit $3 million (subject to strict conditions), compared to her half siblings who stood to inherit approximately $400 million each. The Executor of the Will has appealed the Court’s decision to award Olivia $25 million and the matter is currently before the Court of Appeal.

This case highlights that making appropriate provision for your children is a crucial consideration in the estate planning process. It also demonstrates that, failing to make adequate provision for your children – even though you may not have had a close relationship with them – may result in those disinherited children bringing a claim against your Estate.

Another issue arising from blended families is the provision for stepchildren.  Until recently, stepchildren were unable to make a claim under the Family Provision Act. The recent amendments to the Family Provision Act provide that a stepchild can make a claim in specific circumstances and usually in circumstances where the stepchild was financially dependent on the stepparent, or where the stepchild’s biological parent left his or her entire estate to their new spouse or partner, who in turn does not leave adequate provision for that stepchild.  Accordingly, even though a stepchild may not be a “child” in the eyes of the law, he or she may still be able to bring a claim against your Estate.

The fact that your children and other close family members can challenge your testamentary wishes highlights the reason why it is crucial to seek sound legal advice when dealing with your estate planning and business succession planning. The benefits of carefully and effectively arranging your estate planning far outweigh the dire consequences of not doing so and leaving important matters unaddressed.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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Who Inherits Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls?

Despite achieving the status of music royalty, Prince’s untimely death at the young age of 57 years has once again highlighted the simple fact that no one can avoid the fallout from dying without a Will.

Whilst hard to believe that a superstar of Prince’s status would not execute a single document to say who inherits his wealth,  his family have filed papers to declare that Prince died without a Will. This means that Prince died ‘intestate’ and his family and the Courts are left to deal with the resulting mess that is likely to take years to sort out – not a legacy that Prince is likely to have wished to leave behind.

So, what happens to Prince’s ‘Little Red Corvette’ and other assets?  That will be up to the law in Minnesota… but what would happen if Prince lived right here in Western Australia and held his assets here?…

If Prince lived in Western Australia, there is a formula imposed by section 14 of the Administration Act 1903 that dictates who inherits the estate and in what proportions. Although each person’s intentions are different, it is very unlikely that this formula will mirror exactly what each person wishes to happen to their estate and therefore will most likely be problematic.

For example, if Prince died leaving a wife and children, the wife would receive a statutory legacy of $50,000 and one third of the remainder of his estate. The other two thirds would be divided between his children. Interestingly, the statutory legacy of $50,000 (which represented the median house price in the 1980s – definitely a ‘Sign o’ the Times’) has not increased since 1982.  For many widows or widowers left behind, $50,000 plus a third of the estate is simply not enough to maintain the same standard of living that the widow or widower may have become accustomed to whilst the deceased was alive.

If a beneficiary is not sufficiently provided for by the section 14 formula, their only recourse is to commence proceedings under the Family Provision Act 1972, which normally incurs significant legal costs and entails lengthy delays in finalising the estate.

By delaying the crucial exercise of making a Will, you run the real risk of dying intestate.  It is unfortunate when fighting over money takes precedence over mourning the loss of a loved one. To actively attempt to avoid disputes with respect to your estate, everyone should have (at the very least) a basic estate plan, including a valid and up to date Will.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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The Will to Challenge

Modern life (and the complexities that come with it) mean that we must consider our estate planning very carefully.   With the increase in conflicting moral obligations to spouses, de factos, children, step children and other loved ones, even the most careful Willmaker may find that there is someone who feels that they should have received more.  Where a person dies without a Will, it is also a real possibility that someone may feel that the laws of intestacy do not leave them with adequate provision from the deceased’s estate. 

The aim of the Family Provision Act 1972 (WA) (the Act) is to make provision for the maintenance and support of the dependants of a deceased person where those dependants do not receive an adequate inheritance from the deceased’s Will (or by section 14 of the Administration Act 1903 (WA) if the person died without a Will). 

The following classes of people may apply to the Court for further provision:

  • a spouse or de facto partner;
  • a child;
  • a parent

and, in certain circumstances:

  • a grandchild;
  • a stepchild; or
  • a former spouse or former de facto partner.

The claim must be made within six months of a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration being made by the Court.

The Court has a wide discretion to determine what is fair and adequate provision and will consider a number of factors, such as the claimant’s:

  • financial position;
  • lifestyle;
  • medical needs;
  • relationship with the deceased,

as well as other factors such as the:

  • needs of other beneficiaries;
  • size of the deceased’s estate; and
  • moral obligation to provide for the claimant.

The existence of the Act highlights the importance of ensuring that your Will is always valid and up to date in order to protect the rights of your beneficiaries.  It also highlights the importance of seeking advice from an experienced estate planning lawyer in order to ensure that all measures are taken to protect your estate from potential legal fees after your death – an ineffective Will can be expensive to your estate!

The existence of the Act also highlights the importance of seeking appropriate legal advice if you were a dependant of a deceased person and do not believe that you have received an adequate or fair share of their estate.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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What is the Net Asset Pool?

Following on from my colleague’s article “What Do You Mean It’s Not Mine?”, I have reflected upon one of the more basic, yet most important, question in family law property settlement – what makes up the net asset pool?

Simply stated, the net asset pool is all of the parties’ assets minus their liabilities.

That sounds simple enough, but what exactly is an asset, a liability, or a financial resource, is sometimes not so simple.

Identifying and Valuing the Net Asset Pool

The asset pool includes assets which are:

  • owned by either party prior to the marriage;
  • accumulated during the marriage; and
  • acquired post separation.

The Family Court can deal with an asset which is:

  • registered in the sole name of a party;
  • registered in joint names; and/or
  • registered in the name of a company or trust which a party controls or in which a party has an interest.

The Court also has regard to the financial resources of a party, such as any benefits which may flow to a party from a trust.

There are often disputes between parties as to:

  • the identity of assets;
  • the value of assets; and/or
  • assets which may have been dissipated either before or after separation.

The Court recognises the concept of an “add-back” or “notional property”.  This means that the Court can “add-back” into the net asset pool those assets which:

  • formed part of the asset pool but have been spent (for example, funds in a joint account spent on a party’s legal costs);
  • have been gifted to a third party;
  • have been recklessly wasted by one of the parties (for example, gambling or extravagant expenditure); and/or
  • have not been disclosed or are unaccounted for.

In determining the net asset pool, it is necessary to consider any contingent or latent tax liabilities which may arise upon the division or transfer of assets.  Transfers of assets between parties, pursuant to orders of the Family Court are normally exempt from stamp duty and parties can claim capital gains tax rollover relief.  However, where other assets are transferred, such as sale or transfer of shareholdings, or superannuation splits, different considerations may apply.  Parties should obtain independent financial or accounting advice in relation to these matters.

The relevant date for the determination of the net asset pool is the date when the Court hears the application.  If parties negotiate a settlement, the appropriate valuation date will be at the time of a settlement.  Many litigants do not appreciate that assets acquired pre-marriage or post separation can also be brought to account by the Court.

What is an Asset for the Purposes of Property Settlement?

Some of the more common assets are

  • real estate
  • motor vehicles
  • personal property (artwork, jewellery, furniture, antiques and personal possessions of value)
  • shareholdings in publicly listed or private companies
  • savings/deposits
  • superannuation (save and except in de facto property cases in Western Australia)

The following may also be deemed an asset of a relationship

  • goodwill of a business
  • interest in a partnership, franchise or other business
  • property held overseas or interstate
  • surrender value of a life insurance policy
  • patents and copyrights
  • antiques and artwork
  • lump sum redundancy/long service leave payments, provided they have already been received
  • lotto winnings or other windfalls (such as insurance payments and inheritances in certain circumstances)
  • contingent assets such as loan accounts in family trusts
  • vested interest in an estate, such as a life interest in property
  • frequent flyer points
  • water rights for rural properties
  • livestock

The assets taken into account by the Family Court include those owned by either party prior to the marriage, accumulated during the marriage or acquired post separation.

The Court also has regard to the resources of a party, which may include the following

  • benefits which may flow from family or discretionary trust or other entity
  • benefits received as a company director (company car, computer, phone)
  • inheritance shortly to be received
  • superannuation (in de facto property cases in Western Australia)

What is a Liability for the Purposes of Property Settlement?

Some of the more common liabilities are

  • mortgages
  • credit cards
  • personal loans (car loans and hire purchase leases)

The following may also be deemed a liability of the relationship

  • current outstanding taxation liabilities including income tax liabilities and capital gains tax
  • tax liabilities which may arise upon the division or transfer of assets
  • capital gains tax to be incurred from the sale of a property or shareholdings
  • outstanding land tax
  • HECS/Fee Help debt
  • monies owed to family entities

Ultimately what forms part of the net asset pool varies on a case by case basis.  A careful analysis of your financial position is prudent.  You may also need to speak with your accountant to help you prepare a schedule of your assets and liabilities.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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What Do You Mean It’s Not Mine?

With the increase in sophisticated financial plans and the heightened awareness of the benefits of asset protection strategies, what seems like a simple question actually requires careful consideration – what do you own?

This question is important when considering your estate planning objectives. Is it your vision for your children to take over the family business? Have you taken out life insurance to ensure that your spouse can pay the mortgage? Who will take control of your family trust after your death? When you own, or have an interest in, what are commonly referred to as ‘Non-Estate Assets’, additional planning is required.

An ‘Estate Asset’ is an asset owned personally in your name.  You may transfer ownership of Estate Assets in your Will to your preferred beneficiaries.  An Estate Asset includes any asset that you own solely in your personal name or (if with someone else) as a tenant in common.  Estate Assets can include real estate, personal belongings, shares, investments and/or cars.

If you do not own an asset in your personal capacity (i.e. in your name) then that asset is a ‘Non-Estate Asset’. Non-Estate Assets include:

  • assets owned with someone else as a joint tenant;
  • assets owned by a Trust;
  • superannuation or life insurance proceeds (subject to binding nominations and trustee discretion); and
  • assets owned by a company.

It is not possible to transfer ownership of a Non-Estate Asset by your Will as technically it is not yours to give away.  For example, company assets belong to all of the shareholders of a company, trust assets belong to all beneficiaries of that trust and superannuation does not automatically form part of your estate.

So, how do you deal with Non-Estate Assets and achieve your estate planning objectives? It is crucial to seek appropriate legal and financial advice with respect to succession of these entities and distribution of the relevant assets. Your lawyer and financial adviser will often work together with you in order to create a strategy to reach your goals and ensure that your legacy is passed on in accordance with your wishes.

PLEASE CONTACT

Contact us at bbv@bbvlegal.com.au if you wish to discuss this matter further.

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