Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Legal Professional Privilege** in adviser facilitated estate planning

A question came up recently from a financial planning licensee about whether an adviser attending an estate planning meeting between a client and their lawyer inadvertently waives the client’s legal professional privilege over those estate planning discussions.

As mentioned in last week’s post, legal professional privilege protects communications between a client and their lawyer from third parties, if the communications are brought into existence for the dominant purpose of obtaining legal advice. However, legal professional privilege over communications between a lawyer and a client can be waived if the information is disclosed to a third party.

Broadly we confirmed that we do not believe legal professional privilege is particularly relevant in the context of most estate planning discussions with clients. In particular, the advice generally provided to the client in a meeting is unlikely to be of the nature that legal professional privilege would need to be claimed. Furthermore, the legal documents (i.e. the final wills and powers of attorney) themselves are not generally privileged.

Indeed, in an adviser facilitated estate planning scenario, the client will have, in most cases, already disclosed most (if not all) of the information that will be discussed in the online meeting to the adviser as part of the initial fact finding process before the lawyer commences the legal aspects of the estate planning exercise.

We therefore believe that the risk of any implied waiver of legal professional privilege by having a client’s adviser sitting through the online meeting with the client is low and it would be an unnecessary step looking to avoid having the adviser attend the online meeting.

As most readers will be aware, our strong preference is to have the adviser attend the meeting as, generally speaking, their insights about the appropriateness of the estate planning strategy for the client’s family and financial circumstances is highly valuable.

** For the trainspotters, last week I mentioned that ‘privilege on privilege’ is a line from one of my favourite privilege related songs, from the Church and their 1986 album Heyday, namely ‘Myrrh’. Based on further research, this song is not simply one of my favourite privilege related songs, it is the only decent song I can find, thus listen again.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Financial Advisers to become qualified witnesses - Young Guns (do not necessarily) go for it **

Very positive to see the announcement that financial advisers will be granted the status to witness a Commonwealth statutory declaration.  

A step that sees advisers become the ''equal'' of medical practitioners, justices of the peace and lawyers.  

And arguably a long overdue iteration to provide an easy and far more cost effective way for customers to have documents witnessed. And yet it must be asked, when will all states follow this lead?  

Particularly in the (state regulated) estate planning space, one of the single biggest roadblocks we see is the witnessing of attorney documents. Particularly in Victoria, New South Wales and (to a lesser extent) Queensland the existing witnessing requirements appear to remain unchanged.  

Thus, especially in NSW, you essentially need a lawyer to do the witnessing (kudos to the NSW lawyers union for achieving this position).  

In other words, simply because a person (ie a financial adviser) is eligible to witness statutory declarations is not sufficient to make them qualified for the purpose of witnessing attorney documents.  

** For the trainspotters, an oldie and a goodie, Wham's 'Young Guns' is the inspiration for the title to the post today.

Legal privilege (on privilege)** and estate planning

Often one of the most important aspects of advice provided by lawyers is the ability for that advice to remain private and confidential to the client on the basis of legal professional privilege.

Particularly in relation to tax planning and asset protection, the ability to maintain confidentiality can often be very important and the case of Nolan v Nolan [2013] QSC140 is an important example of this principle. As usual, if you would like a copy of the decision please contact me.

In summary, the situation in this case was as follows:
  1. a wife and husband had been married for some years;
  2. following a breakdown in their relationship, the wife claimed an interest in the farming property of the husband's parents;
  3. because the husband's parents were still alive, the wife tried to gain access to their estate planning documentation; and
  4. the parents of the husband sought to deny access to the documents on the basis of legal professional privilege.
In deciding the case, the court confirmed:
  1. the dominant purpose for the creation of various estate planning documents including letters of advice and handwritten notes, both by the estate planning lawyer and the parents, was to obtain legal advice;
  2. on this basis, legal professional privilege could apply to deny the wife the ability to access the documents; 
  3. unfortunately, because the lawyers for the parents did not raise the issue of privilege until after the relevant documents had been disclosed, the court held that notwithstanding the documents could have otherwise retained their confidentiality, the disclosure of them had waived the protection of privilege; and
  4. importantly, it was also confirmed that it is not necessarily automatically the case that wills and related files are protected by legal professional privilege.
** For the trainspotters, ‘privilege on privilege’ is a line from one of my favourite privilege related songs, from the Church and their 1986 album Heyday, namely ‘Myrrh’.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Family Court: ‘I’ve Got the Power’** to make orders against third parties

The powers of the family court in relation to structures such as trusts are potentially extensive.

At a simplistic level, there is the specific power to force the change of a trustee of a trust.

Potentially, there is also the ability to bring forward the vesting date of a trust to require it to end immediately and thereby crystallise the interests of a party to the relationship.

One leading case in this regard is the decision in AC and ORS & VC and ANOR [2013] 93 FLC 540 FamCAFC 60. As usual, if you would like a copy of the decision please contact me.

Briefly in that case:
  1. The husband’s mother was in control of the corporate trustee and the trust at the relevant times.
  2. The husband and his former wife had a fixed entitlement to the capital of the trust on its vesting, which, at the time of the property settlement, was still 50 years in the future. That is, the trust was not a traditional discretionary trust where there are no fixed entitlements.
  3. The court found that the entitlement was rightly considered property of the parties and therefore ordered the trustee to vest the trust.
  4. The Attorney General intervened in the proceedings, given that the practical result of the decision was that the property entitlements of a third party were substantially altered.
  5. Critically, it was held that the husband and wife did in fact have an interest in the trust property despite the fact that it was accepted that the control of the trust was with the husband’s mother. 
  6. In other words, the ability to alter the structure of trusts can be made even where a party to the marriage is not in control of the trust.
  7. In a more traditional discretionary trust however there may not be the required nexus between the trust assets and the parties to the marriage.
  8. For completeness however, in this particular case, the forced vesting of the trust ultimately failed due to the appeal court’s conclusion that procedural fairness had not been given to the husband’s mother, particularly given that the parties to the marriage had other assets that could have likely achieved financial closure between the parties without the need to impose orders on a third party.
** For the trainspotters, ‘I’ve Got the Power’ is a song by Snap! from 1990.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

I’m gonna break into your heart** (and anything else you get): family law and post separation inheritances

One ongoing area of contention (admittedly amongst many others) in family law is how post-separation inheritances are treated on a matrimonial property settlement. 

In very broad terms, the Family Court is required to consider all relevant factors before distributing any share of one party’s inheritance to their former spouse.

Depending on the exact factual matrix, the Courts will, in broad terms, take one of the following approaches:
  1. Completely ignore the inheritance for all purposes in relation to the division of matrimonial property.
  2. Exclude the inheritance from the division of matrimonial property, however make an adjustment on the division of the matrimonial property to take into account the access to the inheritance that one spouse will have.
  3. Include the inheritance as part of the pool of property to be distributed between the parties, while making some adjustment to acknowledge the ‘contribution' that one party made to bringing the asset to the matrimonial pool.
  4. Simply including the inheritance as part of the matrimonial asset pool, with no specific adjustments. 
However, based on the published cases to date, it is important to note that it is very rare for the recipient of an inheritance or similar ‘windfall' to have those assets completely quarantined, regardless of when they are received up until the final date of the property settlement.

** For the trainspotters, ‘Break into your heart’ is a song by Iggy Pop from his album with Josh Homme (QOTSA) in 2016 ‘Post Pop Depression’.