Home » Debt Recovery of Loans Between Family Members

Lending money to a loved one usually feels like the right thing to do… but it’s a decision that can strain even the strongest relationships. This article aims to help you navigate this tricky situation. We’ll cover the importance of having a clear agreement up front, gentle ways to start the repayment conversation, and when it might be time for more formal action.

Prevention is Key: The Essential Loan Agreement

Too often, family loans happen on a handshake and a promise. While well-intentioned, this sets the stage for conflict. A clearly written loan agreement might feel awkward but consider it an act of kindness toward your future self.

Your Loan Agreement Checklist

  • Basics Covered: Does it clearly state the amount, repayment plan (instalments or lump sum), and what happens if payments are missed?
  • Interest: Is there an interest rate, even a small one? This establishes the loan’s seriousness.
  • Signatures & Witnesses: Did BOTH parties sign the agreement? Ideally, have an independent person witness the signatures.
  • Clarity: Is the language easy to understand, avoiding overly legalistic terms?
  • Lawyer Review: While optional, having a lawyer look over your agreement adds a layer of protection.


The Presumption of Advancement

When money is given within certain family relationships, the law often assumes it was a gift – something called the “presumption of advancement”. This applies to:

  • Husbands and wives
  • Parents and children
  • Fiancés (in male-to-female transfers)

Why is this important? If a dispute arises later, and you can’t prove the money was intended as a loan, a court may decide you have no legal right to demand repayment.

“Gift” vs. “Loan”: It’s Not Just Semantics

Trying to avoid potential tax issues by telling the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) that the money you gave to a family member was a gift could create serious legal problems later on. If there’s a dispute and you end up in court, this could be used against you, making it much harder to demand repayment.

Why does this matter? Here’s the problem:

  • Tax vs. Law: While Australia has rules on when gifts between family members become taxable, courts look more at your intent.
  • Conflicting Evidence: If you told the ATO it was a gift, a judge might conclude you never truly expected the money back. This weakens your position when trying to recover a loan.


Documentation is Key

Regardless of whether you’re concerned about gift tax, having a written agreement that clearly states the money is a loan is vital protection. While rules on taxable gift amounts change over time (check the ATO website for the latest thresholds), a written loan agreement provides crucial evidence in case of future legal disputes, no matter the loan size.

Soft Approaches First: Preserve the Relationship

Before lawyers get involved, you can try:

  • Gentle reminders: “Just checking in, how’s that first payment coming along?”
  • Rework the Plan: Can they handle smaller, more frequent payments?



When simple conversations fail, mediation can be an invaluable step before resorting to court. A mediator is a neutral third party skilled in helping people reach agreements. Here’s why mediation is often successful in family loan situations:

  • Cost-Effective and Faster: Mediation is generally less expensive and concludes much quicker than going to court.
  • Less Adversarial: The focus is on finding solutions everyone can live with, not assigning blame. This is critical for maintaining family relationships.
  • Confidentiality: Unlike court proceedings, mediation discussions are private, protecting sensitive family matters.
  • Addresses Emotions, Not Just Legalities: A good mediator helps uncover the underlying reasons behind missed payments. Is it a temporary hardship? Resentment about other things? This understanding helps find mutually agreeable solutions.


When to Escalate: Taking Firmer Action

If all other approaches fail, it’s time to get more formal, here are some key points to note before taking your case to court:

  • Demand Letter: Put your repayment request in writing, with a clear deadline. Consider having a lawyer draft this for maximum impact.
  • Small Claims Court: If the amount is relatively low, this may be an option. Each jurisdiction has different limits and procedures.
  • Legal Counsel: Find a lawyer specialising in debt recovery and/or family law. They understand the delicate balance of legal action and preserving the relationship.


Family Dynamics & Estate Planning: The Bigger Picture

  • Will This Affect Inheritance? An outstanding loan might be deducted from the borrower’s future share of an estate. This can cause bad blood among siblings.
  • Open Communication: If other family members might be affected, consider informing them. This can prevent unpleasant surprises down the line.


When Reasoning Fails: Choose Greenhalgh Pickard

If all soft approaches have failed, we can assist with mediation by advising you on the process and what to expect. Thereafter, if the case goes it court, it’s vital to engage a lawyer who understands your case and has experience in Family Disputes.

Let Greenhalgh Pickard’s decades of experience and knowledge of the court system represent you. We understand the emotional toll these kinds of disputes can take on your personal relationships. Our goal is to secure your financial interests while prioritising the long-term well-being of your family.


Q: My family member is in temporary financial hardship. What should I do?

  • A: Open communication is key. Instead of demanding payments, explore options like pausing the repayment schedule for a set time, or temporarily reducing the instalment amount. A written revision to the loan agreement is crucial for this.

Q: I lent money long ago without an agreement. Is it too late?

  • A: This depends on the statute of limitations in your jurisdiction. Even if you can’t sue, options like mediation could still help you reach a new agreement for repayment. Consulting a lawyer for advice is advised.

Q: Will a verbal agreement hold up in court?

  • A: While theoretically possible, it’s incredibly difficult to prove. Judges strongly favour written documentation. If you must rely on a verbal agreement, gather any supporting evidence (texts, emails, witnesses who heard the conversation).


The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of a professional. This information does not consider your personal circumstances and may not reflect the most current legal developments. Should you need advice, please contact our firm for targeted information relating to personal your situation.