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Am I in a de facto relationship?

March 17th, 2020

As a family lawyer, I am regularly asked the question – am I in a de facto relationship?

The answer to this question is not as simple as you might expect.  A person will be considered to be in a de facto relationship if, having regard to all of the circumstances of the relationship, they have a relationship as a couple and are living together on a genuine domestic basis.

The most well-known test for determining whether two people are in a de facto relationship, is whether they have been living together as a couple for more than two years.  However, a couple can be living together for less than two years and still be considered to be in a de facto relationship.  Other factors that need to be considered include:

  1. the duration or length of the relationship;
  2. the nature and extent of their common residence;
  3. whether a sexual relationship exists;
  4. the degree of financial dependence, interdependence or financial support between them;
  5. ownership, use and acquisition of property;
  6. the degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
  7. whether the relationship was registered;
  8. the care and support of children; and
  9. the reputation and public aspects of the relationship.

The most common situations in which people may be found to be in a de facto relationship, despite not living together as a couple for more than two years are where:

  1. the couple have a child together; or
  2. the couple have intermingled their finances, such as by purchasing a property together.

A lot of people want to avoid being in a de facto relationship because they believe that this will automatically entitle their partner to a share of their assets.  It is important to note that even if you are considered to be in a de facto relationship, this does not necessarily mean that your partner is entitled to a share in your property or assets.  The court must first determine whether or not an adjustment of property between the spouses is necessary to do justice between them, based on their respective contributions to the relationship and their future needs.  In some circumstances the court will not intervene if the property interests as they stand are just and equitable.

If you would like to discuss your relationship, property settlement or obtain advice on your family law matter, contact one of our Cairns and Mareeba family lawyers today.

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The truth about why you need an enduring power of attorney

February 25th, 2020

The importance of an enduring power of attorney is often overlooked because people believe that their spouse or next of kin will be able to look after their affairs if they were to lose capacity. The truth is, it would be very difficult for your loved ones to deal with your affairs if they are not appointed as your attorney.

Let’s use the example of Jane and Tom:
• Jane and Tom are in their mid 50’s.
• Tom works full-time and Jane works part-time.
• Jane and Tom own their family home jointly.  There is a mortgage over their property.
• Tom is involved in a car accident and suffers serious brain injuries. As a result, Tom is unable to make decisions for himself and requires care on a full time basis.
• Jane is unable to care for Tom on a full-time basis and cover the mortgage repayments.  Jane decides to sell the family home and move Tom into a care facility.
• Jane contacts a real estate agent to list the property, however the sale comes to a standstill when Jane encounters a problem; Jane and Tom do not have enduring powers of attorneys.
• As Jane is not appointed as Tom’s attorney, she is unable to sign the contract for sale or transfer documents on Tom’s behalf to effect the sale of the property.

The consequence of not having an enduring power of attorney in place means that an interested party (i.e. family member or friend) would need to make an application to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“QCAT”) to be appointed as the administrator for financial matters and/or guardian for personal and health matters. So in the scenario above, Jane would need to make this application to have the power to sell their property. This process is stressful and can be costly.

If no one is willing to take on this responsibility then the Public Trustee and the Public Guardian may be appointed to take control of your affairs. There is also the risk of these statutory offices being appointed if there is a dispute between family members about who is the most appropriate person(s) to act.

The reality is, any person can unforeseeably lose their capacity at any time during their life. Wouldn’t you prefer to appoint someone who you trust to look after your affairs if this situation were to arise?

If you would like to avoid this problem for relatively little time and money, please do not hesitate to contact us to set up your enduring power of attorney.

Get your affairs sorted today.  Contact our Mareeba wills and estate lawyers on 07 4092 3555.

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Building covenants and solar panels – are there restrictions on maximising energy efficiency?

January 17th, 2020

Building covenants are common features of contracts for the purchase of properties in new residential estates.  Property developers use them to ensure that houses, fences and other improvements to be constructed by the buyer conform with the landscaping and design of the estate.  The intention is that by doing so, the developer maintains control of the product which it is selling, and buyers can buy with confidence that the other houses in the neighbourhood will be of a similar standard.

The content of building covenants varies dramatically from estate to estate.  Some are very basic and some are highly detailed and prescriptive.  Many of them control the design of houses, materials used, colour schemes and the location of solar panels and solar hot water systems.  Generally building covenants are legally binding, however, the Building Act 1975 (the “Act”) contains provisions which were introduced to encourage developers and homeowners to implement sustainable buildings and designs.  Covenants which restrict the use of energy efficient design features, such as solar hot water systems or light coloured roofs, in favour of unsustainable aesthetic designs can be unenforceable under the Act.

The  Court of Appeal recently considered the enforceability of a building covenant relating to solar panels in the case of Bettson Properties Ptd Ltd & Anor v Tyler.

The facts

In Bettson a building covenant required the buyer to obtain the seller’s consent before installing solar panels.  The purpose of this condition was to prevent the installation of visually unpleasing solar panels.

Without the seller’s prior consent, the buyer installed the solar panels on a highly visible portion of the roof.  The seller’s request to relocate the solar panels to a more discrete location was rejected by the buyer, as the alternative location would render the solar panels 20 per cent less efficient.

The seller consequently sought to enforce the building covenant in the court.

Section 246S(2) of the Act provides that where a building covenant requires a person to obtain consent before installing solar panels on a building, consent cannot be withheld if doing so would prevent the person installing the solar panels.

The question in this case was whether the seller’s restriction on the location of the solar panels prevented the buyer from installing the solar panels within the meaning of section 246S.  This question relied heavily upon the meaning of “prevent”.

At first, the buyer succeeded, with the lower court deciding that “prevent” meant ‘hinder’ or ‘impedes’ and consequently the seller’s requirement to relocate the solar panels to a less energy efficient location prevented the buyer from installing the panels.

However the Court of Appeal did not agree with the lower court and held that ‘prevent’ has the traditional meaning of ‘to stop from happening’.  Section 246S was held to only apply where withholding consent makes it ‘impossible’ or ‘impractical’ to install the solar panels, which was not the case here.

Consequently, the buyer was ordered to relocate the solar panels as required by the seller.

Implications

The decision of the Court of Appeal means that developers can impose building covenants which prevent a buyer from installing solar panels in the most efficient location on the roof.  Arguably, this is not consistent with the policy behind the housing sustainability measures in the Act, which generally prefer energy efficiency over aesthetics.  It may be that the government will change the Act in this regard.

If you are considering buying a property in a new residential estate, it is wise to ask the seller for a copy of any building covenants before you make a decision to commit to the purchase.  You should consult with your building designer or builder about the building covenant requirements to ensure that they can be met in a way which you are happy with.  Failure to consider the building covenants before you sign a contact can mean that you will be unable to build the house the you want, with the features you want after you have bought the land.

Please feel free to contact our property law department on 07 4036 9700 if you have any queries in relation to building covenants.

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What you need to know about spousal maintenance after separation

January 13th, 2020

You have separated, and are yet to agree on a property settlement, but you need access to money.

When a couple separate, it places an enormous strain on their finances.  Where previously the family income was only required to support one household, the same income is usually then required to support two separate households.  For the spouse who earns less or has been out of the workforce, this can be particularly challenging.

Often clients will tell us that they simply cannot afford to obtain legal advice or seek to settle their property matters after separation.  This in turn creates further problems associated with delaying a property settlement, including a continuation of financial strain on both parties.

If you are struggling to financially support yourself following separation then there are options available to you.  One of those options is spousal maintenance.

Spousal maintenance can be in the form of a lump sum payment or periodic payments for a period of time (for example weekly or fortnightly payments).  Spousal maintenance is financial support paid to the spouse who is in a weaker financial position and needs financial assistance, by the spouse in the stronger financial position who can afford to assist the other person, for a period of time to enable that spouse to recover from the separation.

The most common form of spousal maintenance, is an interim agreement for periodic payments until a property settlement can be reached.  Spousal maintenance may also continue for a period of time after a settlement is reached in some circumstances.

To be eligible for spousal maintenance, you need to be able to establish that your income is insufficient to adequately support yourself.  This will require an examination of your income and reasonable and ordinary expenses.  If you can establish that you have a need for spousal maintenance, the next step is to consider if the other spouse has the capacity to pay spousal maintenance, taking into consideration their income and own reasonable living expenses.

If you would like further information on spousal maintenance following separation, or other options to relieve financial stress, contact our Cairns and Mareeba Family Lawyers today on 07 4036 9700.

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3 tips for separated parents to make the most out of the Christmas holidays

December 10th, 2019

  1. Communicate and plan ahead

After separation parents often put in place a routine for their children.  In some situations the children’s routine will not initially include arrangements for school holidays and special occasions such as Christmas Day.  If you fall into this category, then it is time to start thinking about the upcoming holidays.

Christmas is for many people a very special time, to be shared and celebrated with family.  Christmas is often a challenging time for separated families.  The first Christmas after separation can be particularly difficult due to changing family traditions.

The key to reducing stress and the impact of separation on your children is early and respectful communication.  Give careful consideration as to what annual arrangements, particularly for Christmas Day will suit your family, and enable your children to celebrate with both parents and extended family members.

One of the most common arrangements for Christmas, is for the children to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with one parent and Christmas evening and Boxing Day with the other parent, and alternate these arrangements each year, this ensures the children get to see both parents on Christmas Day.  However, this might not be suitable for every family, for example, families that have traditionally travelled away from home to spend Christmas with family.

Once you have considered what arrangements you think are in your children’s best interests, discuss with the other parent as early as possible and try to reach an agreement.

If you do agree on what the arrangements will be each year, or each alternative year, then it will reduce the need for you to discuss the topic annually.  Consider whether you should formalise your agreement by either a parenting plan or consent order.

If you are considering taking time off work and travelling or camping with your children over the holidays, these plans should also be discussed with the other parent beforehand, and as early as possible.  You should also make sure the other parent is aware of any festivities that your children may be involved in, for example school concerts and plays.

Planning ahead will enable your children to have the best day possible and will reduce the risk that your children will feel ‘caught in the middle’ this festive season.

If you cannot reach an agreement, you should consider inviting the other parent to a mediation so that you can more carefully discuss and focus on putting in place arrangements for the holidays, with the assistance of a mediator.  Mediation is difficult to arrange on short notice, so the earlier you start discussing the holidays, the better.

  1. Gift giving

Consider coordinating your gift giving with the other parent.  It is not uncommon that during the relationship one parent will take responsibility for Christmas shopping.  Now that you have separated it is likely that you are both out hunting for the perfect present for your children.  Consider discussing with the other parent what you are thinking of buying before hitting the stores, to avoid duplication.

If your child brings along with them a gift that they have received from the other parent, be positive and encouraging.  Remember Christmas is about the children. It is also a good idea to ensure your child returns with the gift the next time they see the other parent.

Remember what the Christmas spirit is all about.  Whilst you may envisage gifting your former spouse a lump of coal this year, consider how assisting your children to pick out a small present for the other parent, may help and support them to adjust and feel more comfortable with the changing family dynamic.

  1. Celebrate Christmas Day

After separation, Christmas Day will not feel the same for anyone in your family.  That doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy Christmas (you may just need to adjust your expectations and make some changes).

For many separated parents, Christmas Day can feel very lonely.  Especially if you find yourself waking up alone Christmas morning or you are not putting the kids to bed Christmas night.  This can be particularly hard where you are used to certain family traditions.

Surrounding yourself with loved ones and family can reduce some of the feeling of emptiness.  Consider making arrangements to stay with loved ones and continue to celebrate and enjoy your traditions.  You may also consider creating new traditions based around the time the children will be spending with you.

If you would like to discuss your parenting arrangements with one of our Cairns and Mareeba family lawyers, contact us today on 4036 9700.

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Did you get caught on the road?

December 3rd, 2019

It is a privilege to hold a drivers’ licence, not a right.

In Queensland, there are laws that you must obey when issued with a driver’s licence. These laws have been implemented to ensure your safety and others on the road and include road rules. If you do not comply with these laws and are “caught in the act” by law enforcement, you may be charged with a traffic offence.

There may be serious consequences when charged with a traffic offence, even if it is a minor offence.  Penalties can range from monetary fines, loss of demerit points, disqualification of licence, a probation order or at worst, a jail sentence. If you are convicted, this can also affect your chances of obtaining a job, travelling overseas and your ability to obtain a visa.

The penalty imposed depends on the type of offence you have been charged with, your traffic history, your age, character and intellectual capacity, and other mitigating factors such as whether you have pleaded guilty and cooperated with law enforcement agencies.

Generally, there is a maximum penalty for most traffic offences. However, it is within the discretion of the court which decides what penalty to impose, and if a lesser penalty should apply.

At Miller Harris Lawyers, we can help you with a range of traffic related offences, including:

• drink and drug driving
• speeding offences
• unlicensed driving
• driving without due care and attention
• dangerous operation of a vehicle
• dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm and death
• work licence applications
• special hardship orders
• other traffic related offences

Do yourself a favour and get the right legal advice today. Contact our Mareeba criminal and traffic offence lawyers on 4092 3555.

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A gift for consumers in time for Christmas

November 5th, 2019

With the holiday season quickly approaching, legislation extending the expiry period on gift cards to a minimum of three years provides a welcome gift for consumers across Australia.

The changes will come into effect on 1 November 2019, and as a result, new obligations will be imposed on businesses that supply gift cards (see below implications for businesses).

The key changes are that:

  1. the expiry date must be a minimum of three years;
  2. the expiry date must be clearly displayed on the gift card; and
  3. a majority of ‘post purchase fees’ are banned including activation and account keeping fees.

The expiry date must be displayed as a full date or as a period of time with the date of supply e.g. ‘this card expires 5 years after supply, supply date 01/11/2019” or “valid for 3 years from 11/19″.

These changes will come in force on 1 November 2019 and if the terms and conditions of a gift card purchased on that date do not comply with the new requirements, the terms and conditions will be voided and the new requirements automatically imposed by law.

Cards and vouchers sold before 1 November 2019 will continue to have the same expiry period and applicable fees as stated at the time of purchase.

The three year expiry period does not apply to a number of gift cards or vouchers that are:

  • able to be reloaded or topped up;
  • for goods or services available for a limited time (e.g. for a temporary pop up art exhibition);
  • supplied as part of a temporary marketing promotion (e.g. a voucher valid for one month supplied as a free bonus with a purchase);
  • donated free of charge for promotional purposes (e.g. a voucher supplied on the opening day of a store to be spent on that day);
  • sold for a particular good or service at a genuine discount (e.g. a $50.00 voucher for a service worth $100.00);
  • part of an employee reward scheme;
  • part of a customer loyalty program; or
  • second-hand gift cards.

Implications for businesses

To ensure that businesses comply with these new gift card laws, the Australian Consumer Law Commission recommends that businesses should:

  • update gift card terms and conditions on the cards themselves, any promotional material and websites;
  • update internal systems, training, manuals and policies;
  • place signage on gift card displays and at the counter; and
  • note the changes on the receipt issued with the purchase of a gift card.

Penalties

There are substantial fines for non-compliance of up to $6,000.00 for individuals and $30,000.00 for businesses and companies.

If you have any doubt about your compliance obligations, or whether these new laws will apply to you, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team on 07 4036 9700.

Happy holiday shopping!

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Drug Testing in Family Law Matters

October 15th, 2019

Drug and alcohol use is a rising social issue both in Australia and worldwide.  The National Drug Strategy Household Survey[1], conducted in 2016, produced the following alarming statistics:

  1. 1 million Australians, aged 14 years and older, had used illicit drugs in the 12 months prior to the survey, which equates to roughly 16 per cent of the population at the time;
  2. 1 in 5 Australians who reported meth/amphetamine use, also reported using the drug at least weekly;
  3. 4 out of 10 Australians either smoked daily, drank alcohol in risky quantities or used an illicit drug in the 12 months prior to the survey;
  4. 10 per cent of drinkers drove while under the influence of alcohol in 2016;
  5. 1 in 20 had misused pharmaceuticals in the 12 months prior to the survey; and
  6. 1 in 10 Australians aged 14 years and older had been a victim of an illicit drug-related incident in the previous 12 months.

These statistics will shock many.  As a family lawyer it is not uncommon for parents to raise concerns regarding the other parent’s use of illicit substances, alcohol intake or dependence on pharmaceuticals.

In parenting disputes, the paramount consideration is “what is in the child’s best interests”.  In determining what is in the child’s best interests, there are two primary considerations:

  1. “the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and
  2. “the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm, from being subjected to, or exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence.”

Substance use is directly relevant to the court’s responsibility to protect a child from harm.  Substance use will typically have a significant impact on the parenting orders that a court will make.

Where allegations are raised, it is common for the parent who is the subject of the allegation to undergo drug testing.  If the parent wishes to defend the allegation, they may submit to drug testing willingly.  If the parent does agree to undertake drug testing, then the court has the power to require that parent to undergo testing.

When making orders for drug testing, the court must consider, among other things, the type of testing, the frequency and process for requesting a test, the timeframe in which a test is to be undertaken, chain of custody issues, the process for obtaining a sample and the consequences of a negative test result.  As a result, the drafting of drug testing orders has become very technical.

The different types of drug tests

When an allegation of illicit substance use, misuse of prescription medication or pharmaceuticals or alcohol dependency is raised, consideration needs to be given as to what type of testing is appropriate and will most likely capture use.  Different tests will be more suitable depending on the frequency, duration, quantity and timing of usage.

The most common types of testing include the following:

  1. Urine analysis: which can detect prescription and illegal drugs as well as alcohol. This testing, is limited in that it can usually only detect use a few days prior to the test and the accuracy of detection depends on the individual being tested and level of usage;
  2. CDT testing: (for alcohol) which can detect high alcohol usage for a period of up to two weeks. The reliability of detection will vary depending on the individual and the quantity and frequency of use during the detection period;
  3. EtG testing: is a type of hair follicle testing which can test alcohol use for up to three months; and
  4. Hair follicle testing: which can detect a variety of illegal and prescription drug use for up to three to six months depending on the length of the hair sample.

Which test, or combination of tests is appropriate, will depend on the alleged substance used, the timing of the use and the pattern of consumption.

If you require assistance with your family law parenting matter, or have concerns regarding your children or the other parent that you wish to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact one of our Cairns and Mareeba family lawyers today on 07 4036 9700.

[1] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/illicit-use-of-drugs/overview

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Should You Formalise The Parenting Arrangements For Your Children?

September 5th, 2019

Formalising the parenting arrangements for children after separation has many benefits for both the parents and children.  A formalised agreement provides a predictable and stable routine, reduces the chances of conflict, and reduces stress and the likelihood of the other parent acting contrary to the agreed arrangement.

There is no one better placed to make decisions about what parenting arrangements are in the “best interests” of children, than their parents.  However, an experienced family law practitioner can provide very useful, and sometimes critical advice, to assist parents to agree on, and formalise, all necessary parenting issues for their children.

Issues we commonly advise separated parents about include:

  1. the various parenting arrangements parents might consider such as week-about, a shared week arrangement, and alternate weekend routines, including arrangements for special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day;
  2. how to “make legal” the agreed parenting arrangement to reduce the risk of the other parent absconding with, or holding over the children, or making threats to do so;
  3. whether to enter into a parenting order – which is legally binding, or a parenting plan – which is not legally binding, but which has other benefits, including flexibility;
  4. how to ensure the parenting arrangements still maintain a degree of flexibility where needed. This can be critical where one parent works on a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) arrangement, does shift-work, or lives in another city;
  5. other parenting issues such as domestic and international travel with the children, passport arrangements, choice of schools and medical providers;
  6. concerns relating to who will care for the children when they spend time with the other parent;
  7. what to do when a child is refusing to spend time with the other parent;
  8. how parents can keep in touch with their children when they are living with the other parent;
  9. concerns regarding alcohol, illicit substances and family or domestic violence; and
  10. how to communicate with the other parent regarding a parenting issue about which they do not agree.

The feedback we commonly get from our clients is that formalising the parenting arrangements:

  1. reduces stress for the children by providing a stable routine;
  2. reduces anxiety and conflict for the parents by removing the need to communicate on a weekly basis with the other parent about what time the children will spend with each of them;
  3. enables parents to plan their time with their children, including holidays and special occasions such as birthday and Christmas celebrations;
  4. reduces their level of fear that the other parent may abscond with their child, refuse to return their child or otherwise act contrary to the formal parenting arrangements; and
  5. reduces their level of fear that the other parent may make a court application seeking for the children to live with them or to move away.

It is strongly recommended that, in the initial stages of a separation, parents obtain legal advice from experienced family law practitioners about:

  1. the law surrounding parenting issues and arrangements under the Family Law Act 1975(Cth) as relevant to the particular family;
  2. the various parenting options, arrangements and issues they should consider;
  3. whether a parenting arrangement should be formalised through a parenting plan or court orders;
  4. the services available (some of which are free), to assist parents to discuss and agree on parenting arrangements; and
  5. how they can make the agreed parenting arrangements “legal”.

At Miller Harris Lawyers, our experienced Cairns and Mareeba family lawyers are available to provide you with advice on general parenting matters and the application of the Family Law Act 1975 to your family situation, and specific parenting issues, to assist you to amicably resolve the arrangements for your children.

If you would like more information about how we can assist you to amicably resolve the parenting arrangements for your children, please feel free to contact our Cairns and Mareeba Family Lawyers on 4036 9700.

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BIG LIFE CHANGES: The effect of marriage, divorce and separation on your will

August 22nd, 2019

There seems to be a misunderstanding about divorce and the appropriate time to update your will or do a new will.   You should always have a current and up to date will in place.  Waiting for your divorce to be finalised is never a good reason to delay your estate planning.

What’s the effect of divorce on a will?

In Queensland when a person makes a will (“the willmaker”) and then later divorces, any provision appointing the willmaker’s former spouse as executor, trustee and/or guardian will be revoked and taken to have been omitted from the will.  Further, any gifts made in favour of the former spouse are automatically revoked upon divorce.  All other provisions in a will not relating to the former spouse, generally will remain valid and effective.

As divorce only revokes the provisions to your former spouse in your will and not your whole will,  you do not need to wait for your divorce to be finalised to prepare a new will (and I do not recommend that you wait). Whist this example may seem reasonable to many of you, it is important to bear in mind that only upon a formal divorce will those provisions to a former spouse be revoked.

What happens if I am separated but not divorced?

For married couples, separation alone will not revoke a will. In Australia married couples must be separated for a minimum period of twelve (12) months before making an application for a divorce.  During the period of separation (which is sometimes many years) if you have an old, outdated will in place gifting everything to your former spouse, he/she may get just that, everything.

What if I don’t have a will?

It is just as bad, if not worse, if you don’t have a will in place and you are recently separated but not divorced.  If you do not have a will in place and are legally married at the time of your passing, then under the rules of intestacy your former spouse will get a large portion, if not all, of your estate.

When should I do a new will or update my existing will?

A lot of clients prefer to hold off preparing a new will or reviewing their existing will until their divorce and/or property settlement has been finalised.  I do not recommend this.  Whist you might feel like you have 101 things to do and your life is chaotic, a new or revised estate plan should be at the top of your “To Do” list.

What other life changing events will affect my will?

The ending of a de facto relationship or civil partnership will also revoke the provisions to a former spouse in a will.  So even if you are not married, you should bear this in mind.

Marriage will automatically revoke a will*, unless the will is made “in contemplation of marriage”.    I often find, especially for younger clients, that they still wish to make provisions for their siblings or parents even if they are getting married.  Usually if their parents have gifted them a sum of money or have provided a guarantee to assist them in buying their first home.  If they prepare a will making these provisions for family members and then later get married, and their will has not been made in contemplation of marriage, then these special gifts to family members will be revoked.

*It is important to note that marriage will not revoke the following provisions in a will pre-dating marriage:

  1. a gift to the person to whom the willmaker is married to at the time of the willmaker’s death;
  2. an appointment as executor, trustee, advisory trustee or guardian of the person to whom the willmaker is married at the time of the willmaker’s death;
  3. a will, to the extent it exercises a power of appointment, if the property in relation to which the appointment is exercised would not pass to an executor under any other will of the willmaker or to an administrator of any estate of the willmaker if the power of appointment were not exercised.

Information contained in this article is of a general nature only and is applicable to the current law in Queensland.  It is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity.  Please note that the law in each state and territory may differ.  We recommend that you contact one of our experienced wills and estates solicitors to obtain advice about your individual circumstances.

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