If you are married or in a de facto relationship, you may have a number of assets and liabilities in joint names. If that relationship breaks down, it is important that you protect your entitlement to those assets and reduce your exposure to incurring or increasing any further liabilities.
This is especially important if your relationship ended on bad terms and you are not able to communicate with each other effectively.
Some assets, such as bank accounts, are high liquidity assets and money can be withdrawn or transferred easily. Other assets, such as a home are low liquidity assets and are difficult to sell or transfer without your knowledge and consent.
If you have a bank account with large sums of money in it, you should immediately contact your bank to have the account frozen or to require your joint signatures to withdraw funds. For accounts with minimal to no funds, you could also elect to reach an agreement with the other party regarding the closure of those accounts and the distribution of the funds in them. You should also ensure that your income, such as wages or a pension is no longer deposited into a joint account.
If you hold a property with your former spouse as joint tenants, you should take steps to sever the joint tenancy and hold the property as tenants as common. This stops your interest in the property automatically being inherited by your former spouse in the event that you pass away.
If you are concerned that your former spouse is taking steps to dispose of significant assets, such as a property they hold in their sole name, then you should seek advice about making an application under the Family Law Act to prevent that from occurring.
In the same way that you should considering freezing any joint bank accounts, you should freeze any joint credit cards to prevent the amount owing at separation from being increased.
If you have any mortgages or other debts, it is important that you ensure that either the debts continue to be repaid as required or you contact the creditor and make arrangements with them.
You cannot simply stop paying the debts because you have separated, as it may impact on your credit rating and the creditor may take adverse action against you.
Will, superannuation and life insurance
If you have a will, it is possible that the will may leave all your assets to your former spouse. Your will does not automatically become invalid upon separation and you should therefore create a new will to update your beneficiaries.
You should also ensure any binding death nomination held by your superannuation fund and the beneficiaries under any life insurance policy you hold are updated.