Partner’s ex ‘stole’ my inheritance via this legal loophole
DEB* was madly in love with her new partner Jim* and they were looking forward to their future together.
Jim had been through a recent divorce and Deb assumed everything was legally sorted out, with property and finances divided.
Her life changed when a relative died and Deb was thrilled to receive a hefty inheritance, so she and Jim bought a house together in Noosa. That's when she decided to protect her assets, just in case her relationship with Jim ever broke down.
"By that stage I had a few properties, so I thought it was a good idea to see a lawyer to arrange a pre-nuptial agreement, just so I could protect everything in case something happened between myself and Jim," Deb told news.com.au
"Jim told me that he and his ex-wife had a property settlement and he believed it had been formalised. He was more than happy to move ahead with me and prepare a pre-nuptial agreement, as we were both confident there was nothing to be concerned about."
Then came the bombshell - Jim received an email from his ex-wife's lawyer, demanding a property settlement and a substantial amount of money. It turns out the property settlement with his ex-wife had not been formalised after all.
"At first I was shocked - surely there has been a mistake? I had no idea Jim's ex-wife could have any possible claim on any of my money. So, it was absolutely devastating when we learnt that my inheritance and other money was soon going to vanish," Deb said.
"I'd met the love of my life, everything was going great in my world and, to top it all off, having this inheritance was another dream come true as I've worked so hard my whole life. Little did I know that that dream was about to come tumbling down."
Family lawyer Marie Fedorov told news.com.au she was called in to help the couple negotiate a settlement - but Deb had no choice but to pay her partner's ex-wife out of her own pocket.
"Deb and Jim had just purchased a new house, which fell into the asset pool of her partner and his ex-wife as well as around $120,000 of inheritance, personal savings and superannuation," Ms Fedorov said.
"Unfortunately there wasn't much that we could do. If you pool your assets together with your partner, they can most certainly join the asset pool of their previous partner, if certain formalities have not already been made."
Ms Fedorov said it's wise to have a pre-nuptial agreement from the moment you become someone's defacto (i.e. live together in a domestic arrangement).
"It's also crucial to make sure that you formalise agreements reached, as what happened was Jim had reached agreement with his ex to divide everything up but didn't formalise the agreement, which was what allowed the new property that he owned with Deb to fall into his property pool with his ex," Ms Fedorov said.
Financial planner and founder of Cooper Wealth Management Felicity Cooper said while there's a social perception that it's the men who have to protect assets, it's just as important for women to protect what they bring to a relationship.
A recent survey showed that women underestimate their household assets by over 25 per cent on average.
"Women need to take stock of their wealth and their value. They must also consider how their assets will be protected for their children if something were to happen to them," Ms Cooper said.
"It may be fine to leave your assets to the father of your child but, if he remarries without the right structures in place, that wealth will become part of their asset pool and may not even exist when your children need that support."
As for Deb, she and Jim are moving forward together despite the trauma of losing more than half a million dollars.
"I wish I had known about how important it was to really discuss finances with my new partner. We were just focusing on our new love and assumed that everything was fine. He had no hesitation in agreeing to a pre-nuptial agreement because, as far as he was concerned, his divorce was done and dusted," Deb said.
"I just want to urge other women to be careful. Even when you're swept up in a romance, please get good financial and legal advice.
"If only I had taken the appropriate steps, I wouldn't be in the mess I am now. I am still with Jim and still happily in love but things would be so different if I didn't have to hand over my cash to his ex."
*Names have been changed.