Assistance for bushfire victims
Wills and Estates:
09 January 2020
Aitken Partners sends its heartfelt support to those Australians whose lives have been disrupted by the harrowing bushfires throughout the country.
We applaud the efforts of our firefighters and other volunteers in the community who are providing support and assistance to those affected on the ground.
For those in need of legal support, we hope the information below provides some assistance. If you require legal advice, we encourage you to contact Aitken Partners on (03) 8600 6080.
Legal support in Victoria
Disaster Legal Help Victoria is an organisation that provides free legal help and support to Victorian victims of natural disasters. The organisation is a joint initiative of Victoria Legal Aid, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Bar and Justice Connect.
Further information can be found here:
Helpline: 1800 113 432
Twitter (for updates on assistance available near you): https://twitter.com/DisLegalHelp
Legal support throughout Australia
Law Society of South Australia: 1300 366 424
You should contact your insurer as soon as possible to advise if your property has been destroyed or damaged by the fires.
If you are currently residing in a bushfire affected area, you should take detailed photos of your property including any insurable personal items as evidence. You should also organise any necessary documentation, including policy documents, your certificate of insurance, and proof of purchase or ownership of valuables. Thorough and complete evidence of the state of your property before any damage is important to maximise your claim.
Benefits that may be available under your home insurance policy in addition to property damage include:
- Access to temporary accommodation;
- Loss caused by theft or looting;
- Loss of rent for landlords;
- Demolition and clearing costs;
- Discharge of mortgage and other legal costs.
If you have urgent financial need, you may be able to have your insurance application 'fast-tracked', and have an advance payment made within 5 days of establishing your financial need to the insurer.
If you don't understand your policy or need assistance with making a claim, you should seek legal advice, naturally we happy to assist you. If you are not satisfied with the handling or outcome of your claim, you can take your case to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
You may also be separately insured for:
- Farming land, livestock and animals;
- Business income;
- Mortgage insurance;
- Vehicles, farm plant and boats;
- Private health.
You should ensure that all eligible claims are lodged.
The following resources may assist you with income support:
- Department of Human Services (Commonwealth): https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/subjects/victorian-bushfires-december-2019Various forms of support available for affected persons.
- Department of Health and Human Services (VIC): https://services.dffh.vic.gov.au/personal-hardship-assistance-programPersonal Hardship Assistance Program provides pre-paid debit cards to eligible persons.
You may be eligible to access your superannuation early for financial hardship reasons. If you have been injured and are unable to work, you may also be entitled to income protection insurance through your superannuation fund.
The ATO has granted automatic deferrals for lodgements and payments due for those in fire-affected postcodes. For more information, visit: https://www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Dealing-with-disasters/In-detail/Specific-disasters/Bushfires-2019-20/
If you are suffering financial hardship and are unable to afford your bills and expenses, you may be able to arrange deferred payments with your creditors on the basis of financial hardship (particularly government fines, judgment debts, utilities providers, and financial institutions and lenders.
If you have lost personal documents in the fire, you may be able to recover or renew those documents:
- Lost passports can be replaced for free on request to the Australian Passport Office: https://www.passports.gov.au/news/free-replacement-passports-bushfire-victims
- Lost drivers licences, healthcare cards, bank cards and other cards and ID can be obtained by contacting the relevant entity or authority. Many government authorities are issuing replacement documents for bushfire victims without charge.
- Lost certificates of title to real property can be replaced by application to Land Use Victoria (or the relevant department in your State). The applications can require detailed evidence and it is recommended that you obtain legal assistance. The fees and costs in obtaining this may be covered by your home insurance policy.
If you have lost legal documents in a fire, the documents are usually still valid and enforceable. However, there are obviously difficulties in proving the contents of a document that is lost, and it is important to obtain new copies or remake the documents (if possible):
Lost wills can be a significant problem. If your will has been prepared by a solicitor, it is more than likely that the original is stored with the firm that prepared the will and that you had a copy. However, if you are concerned you should verify this with the firm directly.If the firm has closed or amalgamated, you should contact the Law Institute of Victoria (https://www.liv.asn.au/) for information about who took custody of that firm's documents.If your original will was destroyed by fire, it is extremely important that you write a new will. Further, if the fires have destroyed your home or other assets, you may need to revisit your will to ensure that the gifts you made in your will (such as a gift of your home to a family member) still takes effect as you intended.
If a loved one has passed away and their will is destroyed, a copy or reconstructed will can still be relied on in some cases. If you are in this situation, you should contact us to discuss what can be done.
- Similarly, enduring powers of attorney that have been destroyed are difficult to prove, and new documents should be executed if possible. Where a person has lost mental capacity and cannot make a new enduring power of attorney, it is possible that a certified copy will still be valid, and further certified copies can be produced from that certified copy.Certified copies of documents may be found with the lawyer who prepared your documents, or with entities that have received the enduring powers of attorney (such as banks, financial institutions, accommodation providers, the registrar of titles or the State Revenue Office).If a copy of the enduring power of attorney cannot be relied upon for a person who has lost capacity, Victorians can apply to VCAT for assistance.
- Lost trust deeds can cause problems for trustees administering trusts (including trustees of self-managed superannuation funds). If you have lost an original trust deed, you may be able to rely on a copy held by a bank, law firm, accountant or financial advisor, or the State Revenue Office. Alternatively, if the terms of the trust can reasonably be ascertained, a new deed could be established by agreement or with approval of the Court.
- Lost contracts and personal or business agreements are still valid and enforceable if lost or damaged, but copies should be obtained in order to establish the agreed terms.
- Tax records are required to be kept for up to 7 years after the income year in which the transactions arise (and potentially longer for documents evidencing capital gains and losses). Efforts should be made to recover any receipts or documents relied on for tax purposes from other entities.
Please contact Jack Conway (firstname.lastname@example.org) or 03 8600 6048 if you have any queries in relation to the above or if you require further information.