Many legal minds making NZ LAW work

We are an association of independent legal practices, proactively sharing ideas and expertise for the benefit of our clients.

Accessing the Assets of a Trust

Published: 25th February 2019

Author: Kimberly Lawrence, Greg Kelly Law Ltd

What the future may hold for separating couples with a trust

When a marriage, civil union or de facto relationship breaks down, the couple will usually divide their property according to the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (the PRA). However, these two people often hold property in a trust rather than personally.

The PRA has limited remedies to access property which has been put in a trust, and this can result in unfairness when a couple separates if there are no assets that they own personally.
The Law Commission has undertaken a review of the PRA and proposed that the legislation be changed to make it easier to access trust property when a couple separates.

The situation now
In its current form, the PRA gives very limited access to trust property. As a result, New Zealand courts have found a number of other methods to dismantle a trust when a relationship breaks down. For example, the courts have developed ways to help partners who make valuable contributions to trust property in the expectation that their relationship would continue and they would continue to receive benefits as a result of their work or contribution.

Going to court is, however, very expensive. It is already time-consuming to pursue a division of relationship property under the PRA. It can be unrealistic for many people to try and bring a separate claim to try to attack a trust. Attacking a trust can sometimes mean bringing claims in two different courts at the same time, or it can mean more expensive High Court proceedings, rather than less expensive Family Court hearings. This means some people cannot pursue what might be their ‘fair share’ of relationship property if there was no trust involved.

Law Commission proposal
Late last year, the Law Commission released its Preferred Approach Paper which sets out a proposal on accessing the assets of a trust. The commission proposes that the PRA contains a single, comprehensive remedy that will allow a court to make orders when a trust holds property that was produced, preserved, or enhanced by a marriage, civil union or de facto relationship. The amended section of the PRA is expected to apply in three different situations:

1. Where property is put in trust during a relationship or in contemplation of the relationship, and putting the property in trust has had the effect of defeating either of the partner’s rights
2. Where trust property has been sustained by relationship property
(i.e. income) or by the actions of either partner, or
3. Where any increase in the value of trust property, or any income from the trust property, is due to either partner’s actions or to the use of their relationship property (i.e. income).

Family Court will have significant power
This proposed provision will give the Family Court significant power. It is expected to apply when one partner uses their income during a relationship to improve or maintain a trust-owned property, rather than spending their income on assets which are jointly owned or benefit both parties.

The section is also expected to apply when, in the early stages of dating, one party thinks that the relationship might last long-term, and puts their home in trust to protect against the possibility of a future claim from the other. If that home later becomes the family home, and would otherwise have been divisible under the PRA, the court may be able to access it despite the home having been put in trust.

Early days yet
One unknown is the definition of what is ‘reasonable contemplation’ of a relationship. If the relationship has not begun and the couple is only casually dating, can they still put their assets in trust and expect protection? What if one party ‘reasonably contemplates’ the relationship but the other does not? It is not at all clear when it will be safe to put property in trust.

If the Law Commission’s proposal becomes law, the best option is likely to be to formally contract out of the PRA. If both parties have independent legal advice and agree not to claim against trust property, the court is much more likely to respect that.

If you are contemplating a long-term relationship and are unsure how to safeguard your assets, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Related Articles

  • Auckland
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Canterbury
  • Coromandel
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke's Bay
  • Kapiti Coast
  • Manawatu - Wanganui
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Northland
  • Otago
  • Southland
  • Taranaki
  • Waikato
  • Wairarapa
  • Wellington
  • West Coast

Boyle Mathieson

Boyle Mathieson was established on a foundation of strategic, practical advice that focuses on solutions. Based in West Auckland, we offer a complete legal service for businesses and individuals.

At Boyle Mathieson we believe in building lasting relationships with our clients, based on trust and confidence in the consistently high standard we perform to

Region: Auckland

Phone: 09 837 6004

Sandford & Partners Lawyers

We are a medium sized Rotorua law firm practicing in areas of business and property law, public law and personal legal services.

We are professionals who listen, who seek to understand your needs, and give practical and usable advice. We thrive on the challenge of providing excellent legal work and aim to give you the highest level of service. For us, working for you means dealing with the little details as well as the big picture.

Region: Bay of Plenty

Phone: 07 348 6039

Argyle Welsh Finnigan

Argyle Welsh Finnigan is a leading law firm in Ashburton,  the town servicing mid Canterbury, New Zealand.

The firm employs a team of over 25 legal professionals, including three Senior Associate Solicitors, three Staff Solicitors and five Legal Executives.  Our firm provides quality legal services with a commitment to our clients and to understanding their individual needs and requirements. 

With more than one hundred years of combined legal experience, we are able to offer prompt and professional advice on a wide range of legal matters.

Region: Canterbury

Phone: 03 308 8228

Purnell Lawyers

There is nothing as inevitable as change. Since opening for business early last century, we at Purnell Lawyers have seen many changes both in name and in the people who have made up the members of our team. We have been privileged to have served the public throughout all of these times. 

We are confident that we will continue to bring top quality legal services to our clients well into the future.

Region: Coromandel

Phone: 07 868 8680

Woodward Chrisp

At Woodward Chrisp we strive to meet the needs of our clients by providing a wide range of high quality legal services within a supportive and collaborative environment.

Woodward Chrisp is the amalgamation of two long established Gisborne legal firms: Woodward Iles & Co and Chrisp and Chrisp. Today’s partners are Ross Revington, Adam Simperingham and Jeff Allen.

Region: Gisborne

Phone: 06 869 0900

NZ LAW Limited

NZ LAW Limited is an association of independent legal practices with member firms located throughout New Zealand. There are currently 57 member firms practising in a wide range of legal disciplines ranging from business law, home buying and selling, immigration law and intellectual property to aviation law and viticulture.

The group was established in 1992 when about five law firms met in Auckland to find a way to benefit their clients by replicating the conviviality and the sharing of ideas and expertise that occurs in larger law firms, but still be able to retain client confidentiality and their own independence.

Region: Hawke's Bay

Phone: 06 835 5299

Breaden McCardle Lawyers

Breaden McCardle Lawyers is the largest full service legal practice in the Kapiti Region.

We are here to help you and pride ourselves on providing practical, solutions based advice to clients in an approachable and straightforward manner.

Region: Kapiti Coast

Phone: 04 296 1105

Horsley Christie

Horsley Christie is a successful law firm based in Whanganui which offers a diverse range of legal services to the Whanganui Region and beyond and has done for over 100 years.

When you deal with Horsley Christie you do so in the knowledge that the firm is one of many law practices nationwide who are members of NZ LAW.

Region: Manawatu - Wanganui

Phone: 06 349 0090

Wain & Naysmith

Based in Blenheim, Wain & Naysmith Lawyers is a full service law firm, and a powerhouse for property, family and business law.

We pride ourselves in providing clear and cost effective legal solutions and practical advice for you, your family and your business.

Region: Marlborough

Phone: 03 520 6103

Knapps Lawyers

As a firm, we promise to look after you and treat you in a manner that we would expect to be treated by a professional services provider; we promise to use every available legal remedy available to us to resolve your issue and to do what you ask us to do in a timely manner.

We will hold in strict confidence all information that we acquire through our work for you and which concerns your business or personal information.  The only exceptions are where you authorise us to disclose such information or where we must do so by law.

Region: Nelson

Phone: 03 544 7888

Law North Limited

We pride ourselves on being a "general store" for most legal issues but also have several in-house experts in specialised areas including trusts, relationship property, business and property law.  No matter what your issue is - whether you are looking for trusted legal advisers to steer you through life, or you have a one-off problem to sort out - we would be pleased to help.

Law North Ltd provides a broad range of legal services across the Far North district from our base in Kerikeri.   We have operated in the area for over 100 years and have a long-standing history of providing legal services to a diverse client base, including businesses and private clients.   Our directors and their families have been part of the Bay of Islands community for several generations and remain committed to the area and its people.  We often call upon strong local knowledge to resolve issues for clients whilst remaining vigilant about client confidentiality.

Region: Northland

Phone: 09 407 7099

Downie Stewart

At Downie Stewart Lawyers Dunedin we are focused solely on helping you achieve your goals. 

We have an incredibly talented team of Dunedin lawyers that will listen to you and provide you with sound legal advice, always striving for the simplest solution to any problem.

We are committed to this region and have worked with Dunedin and Otago families and businesses since 1867. 

Region: Otago

Phone: 03 477 2263

Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd

Incorporating traditional values and a fresh perspective, Sheddan Pritchard Law is here to assist you with all your legal needs. 

Our friendly and team-driven approach underpins our firm’s values, recognising the importance of putting people first and allows us to connect and nurture professional relationships with new and existing clients within our local community of Gore, as well as throughout New Zealand and extending overseas.

Region: Southland

Phone: 03 209 0030

Welsh McCarthy

Welsh McCarthy practises in Hawera, South Taranaki. Predominant industries in the South Taranaki district are dairy farming, oil and gas. The South Taranaki area also has the largest one-site multi product milk processing facility in the world

We deal with company and commercial transactions, commercial and family law, farm and residential sales and purchases, estate planning and family and charitable trusts. A large part of the firm also deals in the area of family law.

Region: Taranaki

Phone: 06 278 5039

James & Wells Intellectual Property

We’re intellectual property experts, but we are also business strategists, scientists, engineers, accountants, lawyers and commercialisation specialists.

We’re all committed to the same goal – making sure Kiwi innovation makes it big on the world stage. Why are we so passionate? Well, it’s sad but true, historically Kiwis haven’t made the most of their great ideas. Maybe because most people don’t realise that 80% of the value of their business is in intangible assets.

This is why we have focused our firm on helping our clients make the most of these valuable assets. 

Region: Waikato

Phone: 07 957 5660

Gawith Burridge

Gawith Burridge traces its history back to 1875 when Charles Gawith first set up his practice. Since then the firm has undergone many changes, including a merger between Gawith & Co and Burridge & Co in 1998 to form our current practice.

Our firm draws on the breadth of expertise available from some of the region’s most senior legal practitioners, as well as the skills of those who have moved here from larger corporate environments.

As a result, we provide clients with a comprehensive range of legal services right here in the Wairarapa. We can provide you with legal assistance whether you are an individual or a company, with everything from setting up a Will to selling your farming business. 

Region: Wairarapa

Phone: 06 370 0000

Greg Kelly Law Ltd

Greg Kelly Law Limited is a boutique Wellington law firm specialising in trust and elder law. Our practice areas are wills, estates and trusts.

We act for private and institutional clients establishing and administering trusts, wills and estates. We also provide quality advice to legal and accounting firms in New Zealand and overseas. In particular, we can assist with legal opinions, obtaining and resealing probate, and estate and trust litigation.

Region: Wellington

Phone: 04 499 5193

Hannan & Seddon

The Law Firm of Hannan & Seddon dates back to September 1867.

The firm's offices were in Werita Street from 1867 until 1982 when the firm moved to Tarapuhi Street and then to its current spacious premises at 61 Guinness Street in 1998.

The name Hannan comes from Mr Michael Hannan whose son John Hannan (Jack) joined the firm in 1908. Jack Hannan remained in partnership until he passed away in 1974 at the age of 90!

The name Seddon comes from Mr T E Y Seddon (son of Premier Richard John Seddon from Kumara) who joined the firm in the 1920's. The other prominent Solicitor at Hannan & Seddon was Cyril McGinley who joined the firm in the late 1920’s and retired as a Consultant in 1997 aged 87.

Currently we have two Partners within our firm. Tony Sullivan who has been with us for 29 years and Colin Smith, 26 years. The firm also has two long serving Legal Executives Elaine Knowles and Beverley Walsh.  

Region: West Coast

Phone: 03 768 4169

All the information published on this website, or in any article herein is true and accurate to the best of the authors' knowledge. Information on this site should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by NZ LAW Limited, or individual NZ LAW member firms for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on information published on this site. Views expressed in any article are the views of the authors individually and do not necessarily reflect the view of NZ LAW or their member firms. Information appearing on this site may only be reproduced with prior approval from NZ LAW Limited Head Office, and credit being given to the source. © NZ LAW Limited