No Fix to Law Overriding Wills
ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks warned today that the Property Relationships Bill to be debated in Parliament this week will override most New Zealanders’ dying wishes.
“I’m very concerned that people haven’t heard of this. It is one of the most damaging parts of this change. The kerfuffle over pushing marriage on to same sex couples has obscured this effect of the law.
“When people make a will they expect their assets to be distributed in accordance with their wishes – and at the moment that is largely what happens. But, when this new law takes effect, the surviving partners will have first claim for a half share of the deceased’s assets. They can disregard the will, even if they made their wills together.
“This applies regardless of what the will says, or what the bereaved children have been led to expect. The claim of a former partner can override even what the current wife or widow needs. The property division rules, up to now, affect only married couples while they live. From 2002 they will trump the wills of both married people and de facto couples. This will apply even after a de facto relationship has ended, so multiple former partners could file competing claims.
“This Bill is a grave robber’s charter. It says that it has priority over anything in the deceased’s will and even over claims from the deceased’s family under the Family Protection Act. It will defeat express promises made by the deceased (for example to someone who has cared for them in a long sickness) under the Testamentary Promises Act.
“The Government’s law change will snare blended families and step-children in litigation. Suspicions about the greed of step-parents made them evil figure in fairy tales. The new law will give substance to children’s fears of their parents new partners and their step brothers and step sisters. Contracting out so that a will prevails is of suspect reliability. How do you get former de facto partners to sign away a windfall anyway? What incentive do they have to sign?
“To make the mess even more juicy for the lawyers the Bill presumes that all the property of the deceased partner is relationship property, up for division. The deceased will not be around to rebut false claims with the truth. Children who want to challenge the de facto’s claim have the burden of disproving the assertion that it is all relationship property. This bill promises bitter numerous legal claims and counter-claims.
“It is wrong for this new legislation to override what you intend when they sit down to decide in your will how your property should go. ACT will restore people’s rights to distribute their hard-earned assets as they want,” Mr Franks said.