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Wed 15th June 2005

Children made vulnerable to disinheritance

Filed under: Law & Courts — JohnPotter @ 9:21 pm

Children can be disinherited under radical changes to property laws giving new power to estranged, de facto and surviving partners.

The “last will and testament” is no longer that say legal experts who want an overhaul of laws relating to the division of relationship property after death.

Under the death provisions of Property (Relationships) Act 2001, a surviving estranged partner, de facto partner or spouse can have children from previous relationships disinherited, superseding a will in the process.

Otago University associate law professor Nicola Peart said the law change went too far and should be reversed.

“The whole thing is very unbalanced. It has created for a lot of people enormous uncertainty – I have real problems with the legislation.”

The law change is resulting in complex and acrimonious legal battles between family members.

The law was changed to bring equality to the property rights of a surviving spouse or de facto partner.

Peart, Professor Mark Henaghan and other Otago law faculty staff recently won an award for a critical analysis on the effect of the changes.

Henaghan said the law was particularly unfair in the way it dealt with de facto relationships, giving an advantage to the person left alive.

He said only the two in the relationship knew what property was shared and how long they were together.

If one of those people died, the other was free to make claims over a will that could not be contested.

Henaghan said the public was generally unaware of the law change because it was ignored in the debate about amendments that gave de facto and same-sex couples the same property rights as married couples.

Henaghan’s advice to people was to settle property disputes at the end of all relationships.

“Otherwise it could came back to bite you when you die.”

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