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Splitting Assets & Debts

Things To Do Early On After Separating

Going through a separation can be overwhelming and important things may be overlooked.

Here is a list of important things you should do early on.

Taking Photos of What You Own

When the time comes to decide how to divide all the assets you have accumulated throughout your relationship, it’s important to be clear about ownership.

Walk around your house and take photos of the contents, in particular appliances, motor vehicles and other valuable items.

In particular, concentrate on those things where ownership may be in dispute.

These images could be useful later on when it comes to producing evidence of what assets you both owned, should it become disputed.

Taking Copies of Important Documents

It’s important to take copies of all important financial documents, just in case things are disputed later on.

Here is a list of things to consider taking copies of:

  • Bank statements.
  • Superannuation statements.
  • Title deeds to your real estate.
  • Mortgage documents.
  • Outstanding credit card debts and other loans at separation.
  • Business, lease or family trust documents.
  • Investment, including share documents.
  • Vehicle registration documents.

If these are digital documents, back up all important documents to an external hard-drive or to an online cloud storage provider (e.g Dropbox, Google drive, Microsoft OneDrive).

Separating Your Finances

After you separate you should take steps to separate your finances and prevent your debts from increasing in the future.

Here are our best tips.

  • If you have money in a joint bank account, remember that either person can, by default, withdraw the entire amount (without your permission). If you have significant savings in a joint account, then consider changing the account arrangement so that you both need to approve any money being withdrawn (or close the account). That way the funds won’t be taken out without you knowing.
  • Open a bank account in your sole name, and have your income paid to that account (instead of a joint account).
  • If you have joint expenses, you can transfer money from your sole account to a joint account to pay for those expenses.
  • Review all direct debits and shared expenses such as homes insurance, utility bills, health insurance, loan repayments, motor vehicles registration and other loans.
  • Make sure your name is removed from the accounts you don’t want to be responsible for moving forward.
  • Prevent the mortgage from increasing. Your mortgage might have the ability for a person to use an overdraft facility, take money from an offset account or use a redraw facility (e.g withdraw the extra mortgage repayments made on the home loan) which by default could be done without your permission. Speak to your bank to change your mortgage arrangements so it cannot be increased without permission from both of you.
  • If mortgage repayments are difficult to make, speak to your bank about pausing mortgage repayments until a property settlement is finalised (sometimes the repayments can be deferred for about 6 months).
  • Remove your former partner from any of your credit cards, so your former partner cannot increase your credit card debt. Close or reduce the spending limit on joint credit cards.
  • Consider other jointly held loans, and speak to your lender to make sure that your former partner cannot increase the debt without permission from you.

Change Your Passwords

It is important to take steps to protect your personal information.

If you have shared an online account with your former partner, make sure that you change your passwords and login information.

You should also change the passwords for all of the other accounts that you shared with them, eg computer, phone, online banking etc.

Will & Superannuation

Get a Will

If you don’t have a Will, and you’re separated (but not divorced) from your spouse, then if something happens to you, your spouse could get some, or all, of your assets by default (even though you’re separated). A Will stops that from happening.

Review Your Super

You should also contact your superannuation fund and remove your former partner from being nominated a beneficiary under your super fund.

If you have nominated your former partner as your beneficiary, and don’t change it, they might be able to access your super should you pass away.

There are two types of nominations when choosing a beneficiary of your super: a binding nomination and non-binding nomination.

Binding Nomination

A binding nomination, also called a binding death benefit nomination, is a legally enforceable direction for the super fund to pay the money as decided by you. The super fund has to follow it (and they can’t override your decision).

A binding nomination needs to be done using a special procedure. It usually needs to be signed and witnessed by two people, and renewed often (usually every three years). You’ll need to check with your super fund, as each fund can have different procedures.

With a binding nomination, you can usually only pick your estate, a spouse, a child, or an interdependent person” which means a person in a close personal relationship where there is financial support and personal care. This can include: children of de facto partners, adult children living with and caring for a parent (or vice versa) or interdependent siblings living together.

Non-Binding Nomination

Another type of nomination is a non-binding nomination. A lot of people, when choosing their beneficiary for their super fund, make a non-binding one (e.g if you’ve done it over the phone, it might be a non-binding one).

If you make a non-binding nomination, the super fund is not legally bound to follow your nomination. They simply have to take it into consideration when deciding who will receive the benefit.

Life Insurance

You should also remove your former partner from any life insurance policy you have.

Make Sure You’re Safe

In cases of family violence, your safety is paramount so you should make arrangements to ensure you are safe from abuse.

You might have grounds to apply for a restraining order if you’re experiencing violence or abuse.

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