broken heartIt’s the usual love story, but with a twist.

Aaron and Lisa* met while in their early twenties, fell in love and got married. But only three years later, the relationship soured and they decided to separate.

Although the separation was acrimonious at times, the couple eventually split their property and moved on with new lives, and new partners.

At least that’s what they thought they did.

Aaron’s sudden death at only the age of 31 revealed the limits of the law, for two reasons:

  • He hadn’t signed the divorce papers Lisa had sent him
  • He died without a will

Aaron had unwittingly left his estate to his estranged wife, even though they had already split their assets and moved on.

Aaron’s family has no recourse to his assets. If he had signed the divorce papers or left a will, Lisa would have no claim to the estate, which includes a house, superannuation and a death benefit. But because they are still legally married, Lisa is set to receive the entire estate.

Aaron had started living with a new partner at the time of his death, but the law around de facto relationships require a couple to live together for two years or have a child together to give her any right to his estate. She has lodged a family provision claim in the Supreme Court, in a final attempt to receive some of Aaron’s estate.

What can we learn from this story?

Always sign the divorce papers and make it legal. Because Aaron failed to sign the divorce papers, he was still legally married which is why Lisa inherited his estate.

Have a will. If you have a will, you can stipulate who you would like to receive your assets. Not having a will means that the law will decide for you – and as in Aaron’s case, it’s led to a bitter family dispute. The rules of intestacy (or the rules that govern how your estate will be split if you don’t have a will) are uniform and rigid. The only way to ensure that your wishes are taken into consideration upon your death is to have a will in place.

Seek legal advice. The law is not always simple, as this case demonstrates. Aaron didn’t realise that not signing his divorce papers would lead to such an extraordinary result. A lawyer specialising in estate planning would be able to advise how this scenario could have been avoided – and how the families could have avoided a lengthy and expensive court battle over his estate.

Contact us today if you need any assistance with making a will or disputing an estate.

* Not their real names.