Oh the webs we weave in our later lives.
It seems there is an increasing array of older adults who live alone and don’t intend, or want, to move in with another person, let alone marry them. In response to the scourge of loneliness, however, they often look for, or chance upon, if not find pleasure in, another person’s occasional company. Enough, it appears, that they want to spend regular, quality time with them. This cohort could fall into the category of friends with benefits. In retirement villages they are affectionately known as ‘tip toers’. Demographers have an acronym for them – the ‘LAT’ set – those who are ‘living apart together’.
There is a more familiar variation on this theme. The LTA set – those who are ‘living together apart’. An elderly women came to see me recently and proudly advised me she was celebrating her ‘silver separation anniversary’. She was still living with her husband but they had been leading separate lives for some 25 years.
Believe it or not, each of these arrangements can have significant and secret legal implications including:
- For the LAT’s, the law could perceive the couple as ‘spouses’ despite the fact they are not married and don’t live together. We call them ‘creeping de-factos’ because, by a process of osmosis, the longer, and the more time, they spend together, the more they can unwittingly fall into the legal definition of a spouse. The consequence is, amongst other things, on the death of one of them, the other may have a right to challenge the other’s Will not to mention any superannuation death benefit.
- As for the LTA’s, for a married couple, divorce revokes their Wills, separation does not. Separation can also mean being separated under the one roof. The consequence for this group is that any Will they made many moons ago giving everything to their now less than loving spouse, remains their Will. It would be reasonable to think that, in a long period of separation, they would not be wanting to give everything to the other spouse. They may even want to change how they own their home from joint tenants to tenants in common for some very good reasons.
Subtle changes in your life and your lifestyle can have significant implications on your estate planning. This is particularly so if you are members of the ‘do nothing’ brigade who are very bad at updating their legal affairs when they should and, as a result, really good for my business.
Maybe time to ask yourself whether your new or evolving personal circumstances mean anything for those plans you made so long ago. Chances are they do!