We are into the last week of January and with Covid-19 restrictions also easing, now may be the time that you are starting to think about plans for the rest of 2022. You may have arranged or rearranged your wedding this year, maybe you are planning to buy a new house or renovate your current home, or perhaps it is just booking that long-awaited holiday in the sunshine.
Whatever 2022 brings, if you are making any key life decisions, legal and financial planning should be a priority in that process. Whilst legal documentation may not be the most exciting thing to think about, my experience from working with families for many years is that if they discussed matters in advance and had a shared understanding of their position, it makes the process much easier for them if something does change in the future. The below information sets out some times when considering this is particularly important.
Moving home or renovations
The past two years have brought an increased focus on our homes and many people will be making changes as a result. If you are planning any joint investment in a property, whether it is buying a home with a partner or friend, investing in renovations, or helping a family member with a deposit, it is important to consider the legal implications and practicalities in advance.
Having a Declaration of Trust can solve a lot of issues when co-owning or co-investing in a property, or if someone moves in to a property that you own. These documents are particularly important if a family member is investing in a property, commonly parents helping their adult children with a deposit. They can provide reassurance to everyone involved about how and when the investment will be recovered, and what happens if a friend or new partner moves in. This avoids the risk of lengthy and expensive correspondence or even litigation if a disagreement does arise in the future.
A Declaration of Trust is a binding deed which confirms who is contributing to the property financially and how the proceeds should be divided if it is sold in the future. However, they are also flexible documents that can cover things like payments for a mortgage, what happens if one person invests in renovations, and who is going to live there. Having clarity and certainty about such matters at the outset allows the focus to be on the exciting part of buying or renovating a property rather than worrying about financial practicalities and whether or not any investments are protected.
If you are in a relationship and thinking of taking a next step in 2022, relationship agreements are a key thing to consider with your partner.
Many people think of such agreements as being solely for the super-wealthy and celebrities, but that is certainly not the case. Relationship agreements can be prepared for many different circumstances, including living with a partner, and they are as much about financial planning for a relationship as dividing assets on divorce. I have worked with couples where one person has inherited a family property or special asset that they want to ensure is passed to their children, where there is a business that one person wants to retain if they separated, and where the couple simply want clarity about their financial matters in advance.
Pre-nuptial agreements are the most common form of relationship agreement and something to consider as early as possible if you are getting married in 2022. Many couples don’t realise that preparing such an agreement usually takes a couple of months, as they are bespoke to each couple. In addition, it is recommended that the agreement is signed at least 21 days before the wedding (if not 28 days), so starting the process at least three months before your wedding is the best approach. On a legal basis, this ensures that there are no time pressures that might affect the validity of the agreement. However, it is also a practical point - the last thing that you want to be doing is finalising the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement whilst having your final dress or suit fitting.
If you are getting married or entering into a civil partnership overseas, there may be different rules for agreements in that country, so it is even more important to consider this well in advance so that you know what is required and can have advice if needed.
For anyone considering a relationship agreement, I always suggest that you think of them as an insurance policy – like having buildings or contents insurance. It is a document that you deal with in advance and then leave in a filing cabinet (perhaps reviewing it every so often if something changes). The hope is always that you never need to take it out of that filing cabinet, but at least you know that it is there if the worst happens.
Holidays with children
One final thing to plan in advance for 2022 is arrangements for your child or children if you are separated from their other parent. Holidays are a key part of this as many parents do not realise that you need the other parent’s consent (often in writing) or a court order to travel with your child outside of England and Wales.
The main message is that planning ahead and communicating with your co-parent is crucial. Consider where you want to go and when, how you will travel there, where you will stay, and the entry requirements to that country (both general and for Covid-19 restrictions). Set this out for your co-parent well in advance, with proposed dates and how that affects the child’s time with them – what does it mean for them to have a holiday with the child as well, or does it fall over a special occasion such as the child’s birthday? Thinking about these points now allows plenty of time to agree on arrangements before incurring costs of a booking which may not be refundable. Equally, it also allows time to attend mediation sessions or have a decision made through arbitration if any difficulties arise.
Whatever your hopes are for 2022, the key message is to plan in advance and seek legal advice to ensure that you and your family are covered where needed – like that insurance policy! Spending a bit of time now to put the right documentation in place can prevent significant difficulties, stress, delays and costs in the future.