Edmonds Judd

relationship property

Relationships can be complicated waters to navigate at the best of times, but it can become even trickier when thought needs to be given to relationship property matters.

One such thorny issue is when one person receives an inheritance or other significant gift from a third party. For a variety of reasons, it may be important for that inheritance to be kept separate from other property of the relationship. This article focuses on the complications of keeping it separate.

Relationship property and intermingling

In most cases, after three years in a relationship, all property acquired during that relationship will be classed as relationship property to be divided equally between the couple if their relationship ends (either by separation or death).

Property that each person owned before the relationship is separate property and does not get divided with the other person. Inheritances or other gifts received during the relationship are, in most situations, also separate property and are not divided.

Separate property can, however, become relationship property in a variety of ways during the relationship. In the case of an inheritance, this happens when that property is ‘intermingled’ with other relationship property with the express or implied consent of the owner. The law says that the intermingling needs to have had the effect of making it too difficult or impractical to continue to identify the portion of separate property.

How this can happen

The most common example of intermingling occurs when money is inherited. If the money is deposited into a joint or other relationship bank account and other money is going in and out of that account, it can be very difficult to identify what part of the funds left in that account are still inheritance funds.

Another example is when inheritance funds are used to buy assets for family use or pay relationship debts.

In both examples, the inheritance could well be regarded to have been intermingled with the express or implied consent of the inheritance recipient. The inheritance would become relationship property.

Another common issue is when a party intends to keep an inheritance separate by putting it into a separate account (in their own name) but also uses that account to receive money that would be classed as relationship property, such as income. The inheritance may be regarded as intermingled with relationship property because income generally is a relationship property asset, despite the income being received into a separate account. Ultimately, however, each case will depend on its own facts.

While inheritances often take the form of cash, the same principles apply to a house or any other type of property that has the potential to be intermingled. In the case of a house, although it is usually easily identifiable as the source of the inheritance, that might change if significant renovations are undertaken by both parties to the relationship, or if the house is sold and the money received from the sale is intermingled with other relationship money.

Protecting inheritance

If you know you are going to receive an inheritance and you wish to protect it, it is important that you get professional advice to discuss how the inheritance might be used and how it can be best protected. The best option for you will depend entirely on your circumstances and plans for the inheritance. Some common protections include:

  • Keeping the inheritance completely separate either in a bank account set up for that purpose or in a separate investment in your sole name
  • Establishing a trust to hold the inheritance and keep it separate from your relationship, or
  • Having a contracting out agreement (prenup) prepared that sets out your separate property and the relationship property, and how all of that property would be divided if you separate or when one of you dies. These agreements can be entered into at any stage of the relationship.

No option is completely foolproof and each option has its own pros and cons.

If you are expecting an inheritance, or have recently received one, it can be a delicate topic to bring up with your spouse or partner. You may of course be perfectly happy to intermingle inherited property. It would, however, be prudent for you to talk first with us to discuss the options above and any implications that may bring to your relationship.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Thousands of Kiwis have, over the years, established family trusts for a variety of reasons. However, it’s well worth considering whether those reasons are still relevant today and evaluating whether your trust may have outlived its usefulness.

You may have established your family trust for:

  1. Avoiding estate duty: before 1992 it was common for high value assets (such as farms) to be transferred to a trust so your personal estate would not have to pay estate duty
  2. Eligibility for the residential care subsidy: trusts were often settled to increase the likelihood of being eligible for the residential care subsidy; the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) only considered assets you owned personally when considering eligibility for the subsidy
  3. Minimising tax: Fluctuating tax rates over the years have sometimes provided a lower tax rate for trusts than the highest rate of personal tax
  4. Creditor protection: Transferring your personal assets to trust ownership means that your personal creditors may have more difficulty accessing those assets to recover personal debts you owe
  5. Estate planning: Children may make claims against their parents’ estates where they believe their parents have made no, or inadequate, provision for them. Transferring assets to a trust during one’s lifetime leaves little or nothing for children to claim against on your death. Trusts also allow assets to be ring-fenced to help with the care of differently abled children
  6. Relationship property: settling a trust, either before your relationship is ‘in contemplation’ or afterwards (provided a contracting out agreement is also signed), is one way to help remove assets from the potential pool of relationship property that would be available for division if your relationship ends.

Things have changed

These days, however, estate (and gift) duty is no more, the top personal tax rates will soon be realigned with trust tax rates, and MSD takes a closer look at trusts when considering residential care subsidy applications. There has also been increasing court action on trusts where it is believed they may have been used to avoid creditors, claims by children and relationship property claims.

In addition, there are further consequences in settling trusts in New Zealand if you are an American citizen, from the UK (even though you may be tax resident in New Zealand), or if you are tax resident in Australia.

Notwithstanding the above, trusts are still very useful vehicles, particularly for creditor protection, estate planning and relationship property purposes.

Trust deeds, however, should be carefully drafted and have the correct documentation in place around them. Excellent legal, accounting and tax advice is needed to ensure that your trust will do the job you want it to.

If you have a family trust that may no longer be fit for purpose, or you think you need an asset protection plan, please talk with us about the options available to you.

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Agreeing on a division of relationship property after you and your spouse separate can be fraught. Usually, emotions are highly charged.

When de facto couples separate, they can resolve their relationship property division immediately, and have no further financial involvement with each other. When married couples separate, however, they cannot divorce for two years and often divide their relationship property while still married. When a divorce does not take place immediately, this can mean the separated spouses still have rights – for example, to inherit if one of them dies. If the separated spouses do not intend this, their relationship property division must specifically address inheritance in order to prevent unintended consequences.

 

Relationship property agreement

A recent High Court decision[1] illustrates the type of problems that can arise. Alan O’Donoghue and Marc Comia married in 2016 and separated in 2019. The couple entered into a 2020 agreement about the division of their relationship property which was stated to be ‘in full and final settlement of all property claims each party has against the other, under any statutory enactment, in equity or in common law.’ The marriage was never formally dissolved. Alan died in 2021 without a will, so was ‘intestate.’

 

Separated spouse to benefit from intestacy?

Alan and Marc had no children. Alan was survived by his mother, but she gave up any interest in his estate. In those circumstances, unless the 2020 agreement was effective to resolve inheritance as well as relationship property matters, then Marc, as Alan’s husband (despite the separation) was entitled to the whole of Alan’s estate by virtue of section 77 of the Administration Act 1969, the legislation that sets out the shares in which surviving relatives are entitled to an intestate deceased’s estate.

Usually, unless there are special circumstances, the person with the highest beneficial interest in an estate will also be appointed administrator. Marc applied for letters of administration in Alan’s estate without disclosing the existence of the agreement. Marc knew that Alan’s brother, Russell, took the view that the agreement meant Marc was no longer entitled to inherit any of Alan’s property. If Marc had contracted out of any entitlements under s77 then Russell, rather than Marc, was entitled to his late brother’s estate and therefore entitled to letters of administration.

 

Contracting out of succession rights

The High Court had to grapple with the question of whether it was possible to contract out of a statutory entitlement to inherit on intestacy under s77. Cases considering this issue are rare because it is usual for a person who has separated and entered a relationship property settlement to make a new will.

Further, the issue only arises where a marriage has not been formally dissolved after a separation; de facto relationships come to an end when the relationship finishes. It is only a marriage which can subsist after separation, and until the parties formally divorce.

The High Court determined, following a 2013 case,[2] that, as a matter of policy, contracting out of an interest under s77 was possible. However, for the ‘contracting out’ to be effective, the agreement in which it is undertaken must comply with the safe-guarding conditions set out in the Property Relationships Act 1976 (PRA). These conditions include that each party to the agreement receives independent legal advice before signing and that a lawyer who witnesses a party’s signature must certify that the implications of the agreement have been explained to that party.

In Donoghue the agreement did not comply with these requirements. However, there is a procedure whereby a non-complying agreement can be declared to have effect anyway. Therefore, the court recalled the grant of letters of administration to Marc, appointed Russell as administrator of his brother’s estate and directed Russell to apply to the Family Court for a determination on the effectiveness of the agreement.

All these extra steps could have been avoided.

 

Lessons to be learned

It is very welcome that the High Court has confirmed that it is possible for separating spouses to contract out of their entitlements under the Administration Act 1969. Naturally for any such agreement to be effective, it must comply with requirements of the PRA. The situation in which Alan left his brother Russell could have been avoided entirely if Alan had made a new will at the same time the agreement was entered into in 2020, which should be usual practice, or if Alan and Marc had divorced after their separation.

If you are going through a separation, we strongly recommend you both make a new will immediately after the separation documentation is completed and/or you divorce as soon as practicable. It could save you and your family a great deal of time, money and emotion.

[1] O’Donoghue v Comia [2023] NZHC 2735.

[2] Warrender v Warrender [2013] NZHC 787.

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Over the fence

Family home v homestead: implications for relationship property

When a relationship breaks down, it is always difficult dividing up your joint assets.  It is important when deciding the division of relationship property under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA) following a separation, or when forming a contracting out agreement, to accurately classify the home in which you and your partner/spouse live. The overall structure of the property will define whether your home is classified as the ‘family home’ or a ‘homestead.’

Family home: The PRA defines the family home as a property, including all land, buildings and improvements, which a couple generally, or primarily, reside in as their family residence. The property within the whole title must be used for the benefit of the relationship to be classified as the family home. In this case, all land under that title must be shared equally in a separation situation unless you as a couple have a contracting out agreement specifying the division of the property.

Homestead: Where only part of the property within the whole title is used for the benefit of the relationship, the portion attributable to the relationship may be considered the ‘homestead’ instead of the ‘family home.’ In this case, the remainder of the property may not be subject to the PRA principles of equal sharing, particularly if it is owned by a third party such as parents of one of the parties.

A family home will be considered a homestead if a portion of the property within the title is used by a couple as their general, or primary, family residence but the remainder of the title is used for the overall economic gain of another entity. This is more common in the rural context where couples reside on the farm but only a portion of the overall title contains the family home and the remainder is used for the economic gain of their rural business.

In this case, only the portion of the title considered to be the homestead would be considered in the division of relationship property, with the remaining property possibly not subject to the equal sharing principles of the PRA.

 

Road user charges and when to pay them?

The government imposes taxes on fuel through a road user charge (RUC) to collect funds for the maintenance and development of our roads. For most people, this tax is included in the petrol price.

Some vehicle owners, however, must pay the RUC and their fuel separately. If you own a vehicle weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, or a vehicle weighing less than 3.5 tonnes that runs on untaxed diesel, you must pay the RUC.

Your RUC licence is paid in advance to allow you to travel the distance purchased – usually in blocks of 1,000 kilometres.

You must always display the appropriate RUC licence on the inside of the passenger’s side of the front windscreen of your vehicle. Once your vehicle has travelled the distance covered by the RUC licence, you must renew your licence.

Owners must keep records of their vehicle use and have a hub odometer installed to accurately measure the distance it travels. Most vehicles that are subject to RUCs are sold with a hub odometer pre-installed.

Electric cars (EVs) do not currently incur RUCs. The new government, however, has indicated that EVs will pay the RUC from 1 April 2024 onwards.

 

Casual employees v seasonal workers

Seasonal workers are employed in certain sectors (particularly agricultural and horticultural areas) with the exclusive purpose of doing seasonal work, usually to assist with an increase in seasonal production requirements. Although seasonal work is temporary by nature, employers must be aware of the minimum entitlements for seasonal workers. There is a distinction between ‘casual’ workers and ‘seasonal workers’ in general. The Employment Relations Act 2000 requires specific clauses in employment agreements for these workers.

Casual employment: a casual worker is employed to work on shifts that are offered and accepted. There is no requirement for them to accept work you offer. In between periods of work, this worker is not considered to be employed by you.

Seasonal work: generally speaking, a seasonal worker is employed to work the entire season. These people are permanent employees on a fixed-term basis who are likely to be employed under a fixed-term agreement[1]. It is important that your seasonal worker’s employment agreement is drafted according to the specifics of the job.

If you need help with employing this summer’s casual and seasonal workers, please don’t hesitate to contact us. It’s vital to get these employment agreements correct – both for you and your employees.

[1] Section 66, Employment Relations Act 2000.

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Not that straightforward when it comes to property

You may have heard that ‘Marriage is betting someone half your stuff that you’ll love them forever’. But what happens about the ‘stuff’ you own before you formally say “I do”?

The law providing equal sharing of relationship property automatically begins after three years in a de facto relationship. However, what a de facto relationship looks like, and when it starts, isn’t always obvious and is often the subject of a dispute.

We take a closer look at de facto relationships as defined in the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA for short). This is key if you and your partner separate and have a dispute over property.

Harry and Kahurangi

If Harry and Kahurangi had been dating casually for a while before moving in together, we’d all agree their relationship evolved into a de facto relationship when they set up home as a couple. But what if Harry and Kahu were flatmates first? Would we assume they were in a de facto relationship from their first kiss?

The landscape changes again if Harry and Kahu each own their own home and want to keep their independence, or if Harry lives in Auckland away from Kahu in Tauranga? Does it matter that Harry hasn’t told Kahu about his significant credit card debt? Or that Kahu’s children think Harry is a ‘friend’?

Partners in relationships come with their unique experiences and backgrounds, forming bonds in any number of ways. Determining when a relationship becomes de facto requires an analysis of many factors.

The easy parts

A de facto relationship is a romantic relationship between two adults, who are not married or in a civil union, who live together as a couple. Many de facto relationships start when couples begin living together, as the legal term suggests. However, when couples have other commitments such as children or jobs in different cities requiring them to live apart, the science of determining when two people start living together as a couple becomes harder.

Living together as a couple

The PRA sets out nine factors to consider when determining whether two people are living together as a couple. The simplest factors are whether the couple lives together, the duration of the relationship and if a sexual relationship exists. Exclusivity is not a requirement of a de facto relationship: partners may be in more than one relationship or be having a sexual relationship with other people.

The nature and extent of the relationship must be taken into account. You should think about whether you would rely on your partner in an emergency and the level of dependency you have on your partner. A couple may date for many months or years before considering themselves to be serious or update their social media relationship status. It is also relevant whether the relationship is public or known to family and social circles of the couple when looking at whether a de facto relationship exists.

There are practical considerations: do the partners care for and support their partner’s family or children? Do they look after their partner’s home, including performing household chores and cooking? Entering a relationship with children from a previous relationship provides layers of complexity — deciding when to introduce partners to children, and navigating living arrangements, further complicates things.

The analysis of whether a de facto relationship exists also looks at whether there are financial commitments together such as owning joint property or bank accounts, and any support provided from one partner to the other. Some de facto partners retain separate accounts for their independence or security, but this alone will not stop a relationship from becoming de facto.

Ultimately, it is the degree of commitment and investment that each partner has to their shared life that is the tipping point of whether they are living together as a couple. They do not need to own property together and, on the other side of the coin, they can live in the same property without living together as a couple.

Why the fuss?

Many couples do not consider it relevant to define their relationship; and for many this is perfectly fine.

If, however, a couple is living in a property that was owned by one partner before the relationship began it will be classified as relationship property after the couple reaches its three-year anniversary, or earlier in some situations. If they separate, the property will be divided equally, rather than remaining the property of the original owner.

Protecting personal assets from a relationship property division is best done before reaching the three-year threshold, but can be done at any time. This is called ‘contracting out’. Independent legal advice for both parties is essential and should be obtained before entering into any formal agreement.

Conclusion

It is never too late to define your relationship with your partner. Whether you are introducing your partner to your family or buying some furniture together (or a house!), take a moment to consider whether you think you may have crossed into de facto, and potentially equal sharing, territory.

Whatever the stage of your relationship, it is wise to think about the longer-term impact this could have for both your futures.

 

NB: The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 has been reviewed by the Law Commission which recommended significant changes to this piece of legislation. However, in late November 2019, the government responded by stating it would not implement nearly all of those recommendations until the Commission has carried out a review of succession law.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650



Time for a contracting out agreement?

You have had years of saving up for the overseas experience many New Zealanders dream of — then a pandemic hits. The London job you thought you had in the bag is no longer an option, and you and your partner are faced with extending the lease on your flat here — that you were eagerly awaiting to escape. What do you do now?

In 2020, many couples have found themselves cashing out what would have been their big OE savings stash and using it for a house deposit. Others have leapt at the banks’ lower interest rates to extend their borrowing and have bought properties that were unattainable only a year ago. All over the country, and particularly in Auckland, the property market is flooded with returning expats who are establishing roots back here — often earlier than anticipated.

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Relationship property claims

Sign a contracting out agreement

When entering a second or subsequent relationship, it is common to want to keep assets safe from relationship property claims. An effective way to do this can be by transferring assets to a trust. Care needs to be taken, however, to ensure you do this within the law.

A recent case[1] reminds us that transferring assets to trust will generally be ineffective where:

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A cost-effective alternative to court

After separating, you could find yourself at loggerheads with your former partner or spouse on exactly how all property should be divided between you. Negotiations may be bouncing between your lawyers, with no common ground achieved. Without agreement, you could file court proceedings but learn costs would increase dramatically. As well, it could be years before a judge can give a decision on how your property will be divided.

Mediation, on the other hand, could be arranged within weeks. It offers a practical alternative to reach a conclusion on how property should be divided between you and your former partner.

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Law Commission to review conflicting inheritance laws

In late 2019 the Law Commission reported back to the government on its review of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA). Discussion on Part 8 of the PRA that deals with the division of relationship property on the death of a spouse or partner was specifically excluded from the scope of that review.

Acknowledging the issues that could arise by not addressing the division of property when a spouse/partner dies, in December last year the government asked the Law Commission to review the law of succession – that is, the law that governs who inherits a person’s property when they die.

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