Financial hardship on migrant brides

9 September 2020
A disturbing trend of migrant brides being left out of their spouse’s Will after they pass is causing significant financial hardship and isolation across Australia.

In fact, we’ve seen an increase of women forced out of homes and left penniless after their Australian husband passes away and leaves them with nothing.

A few years ago, Chinese-born Lin* travelled to Australia for a brief holiday. While in Melbourne, she met someone. He was more than 20 years older, Australian and despite not speaking her language, they developed a relationship. Less than a year later, they were married and living together in regional Victoria.

From Lin’s perspective, her relationship was happy. Their active social life included gardening together, eating out and visiting friends. She took on domestic duties around the house, including cleaning and cooking. Lin knew her husband had children from a previous marriage, but said that they rarely visited him.  

Less than two years later, Lin’s husband passed away. She was devastated, a situation made worse when she discovered the Will he left behind had divided his estate between herself, his children and grandchildren.

By splitting up his assets in this way, it meant their matrimonial home had to be sold, which effectively left her homeless and without enough money to secure a new home.

This is not uncommon; in many cases we’ve seen, women from Asia are marrying substantially older Australian men who often have children from a previous relationship. They take on the bulk of domestic tasks, with some providing critical care as their partner develops cancer or degenerative diseases.

They are also often left out of the Will in favour of children from a previous relationship.

These women are placed in an extremely vulnerable situation. While they are grieving the loss of their husband, they are faced with the stress of potentially losing their home and the prospect of an insecure financial future.

Their English can be limited, and these women have few support networks in Australia. Many aren’t aware of their legal rights or are too afraid to speak up, worried they will be deported or not taken seriously. And although it’s completely fair to raise the topic of a Will with their partner, they may be uncomfortable or not have the language skills to do so.

And with the recent increase in online dating, combined with an ageing population, it is likely that we will see many more women like Lin in similar circumstances in the future.

From a legal perspective, while a parent has a moral and legal responsibility to provide for their children after death, it should not come at the cost of supporting their partner. The law has clear directives for supporting spouses.

When writing a Will and undertaking estate planning, a person must consider their legal obligations alongside their wishes. Proper legal advice can assist with balancing these obligations and avoid complex, costly disputes.

For clients finding themselves in difficult financial situations after the loss of a partner, it is important they seek legal advice early. Disputes can be emotional, but having solid advice from an expert lawyer can provide a clear, objective path to a fair outcome.

* Name changed to protect identity.

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