Relationships Register Act: What is it and how might it affect my will?

Late last year the Relationships Register Act was passed by the South Australian Parliament and assented to.  It is likely to be proclaimed and commence operation this year.  Similar Acts are already in operation in other States.

The purpose of the Act is to provide for the legal recognition of persons in a relationship as a couple, irrespective of their sex or gender identity.  The qualification for registration is that the two adults must be in a relationship as a couple and one of those persons must live in South Australia.  The relationship cannot be registered if one of the parties is married or is already registered under the Act or under a similar Act interstate, or is already in a relationship with another person.  No ceremony is required for registration, only the lodging of declarations by the parties.

The registered relationship ends when a party dies, marries or makes an application for revocation of the registration of the relationship.

An interesting aspect of the Act is that it will change a number of other related Acts such as the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act and the Domestic Partners Property Act.  The practical consequences for estate planning arise out of the changes that the Act makes to the Wills Act.

Presently the Wills Act has two important provisions when it comes to marriages.  They are:

  • when a person marries their previous will is revoked, unless the previous will is expressed to be made in contemplation of that marriage
  • when a person divorces references to their spouse in their will are to be disregarded excepting in certain circumstances

These changes to the Wills Act will mean that parties in a registered relationship and those who were in a registered relationship that has ended will be treated in the same manner as married and divorced persons are presently treated under the Wills Act.

Couples who decide to register their relationship under the Relationships Register Act will need to carefully consider their estate planning arrangements and, in most cases, have new wills prepared.  Likewise, they will need to reconsider their wills if their relationship ceases to be registered.

The likely introduction of the Relationships Register Act will introduce additional matters to consider when doing estate planning in an area which is already complex.  Changes such as these are one of the reasons why it’s crucial to ensure that your will is reviewed regularly, as well as ensuring they are professionally prepared.

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