Wills & States: Check out these FAQs

When somebody dies, the paperwork involved in the administration of a loved one’s estate can be daunting for the family, let alone it being a very emotional and upsetting time. At Gina Jansen Lawyers, we are often approached with questions about estate administration so we put together some helpful FAQ’s.  

Someone has just died, and I am an Executor in their Will. What do I need to do?

If you have been appointed as an executor in a will, you should always locate the original will, and contact a solicitor straight away as well as notify the deceased’s Bank and Work and Income NZ. The executor’s primary role is to follow the instructions set out in the deceased’s will and ensure that all of the deceased’s assets are identified, all debts repaid, and the balance of the assets (called the residue) is distributed to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will. 

Who is responsible for paying the funeral invoice and how does it get paid?

Under a will, the funeral costs invoice is usually payable by the deceased person’s estate.  Once the Bank has been advised that the deceased has passed away, they usually freeze the deceased’s bank accounts, other than those jointly held. Banks do allow funeral invoices to be paid direct from the deceased’s account if there are funds in it.  If the estate does not have enough funds to pay the funeral costs, then the responsibility to pay falls to the executor(s), or the person who signs the funeral home’s contract to undertake the funeral. Some people may qualify for a funeral grant from WINZ or ACC. The funeral home  will assist the family/executor with paperwork for a funeral grant, but who is liable for payment of their invoice, and when, should always be clearly discussed at the time of signing up with a funeral home.

Do I have to apply for a Grant of Probate to the High Court?

If there is a will, the executor will need to apply to the High Court for a grant of probate confirming the will and giving the executor authority to deal with the estate’s assets. If there is no will, but there are assets of over $15,000, then someone (usually the next of kin to the deceased) will need to apply to the High Court for a grant of letters of administration under the Administration Act, giving them authority to deal with the estate’s assets. Except where jointly owned, the title to the deceased’s home, and any other property held in their sole name, cannot be transferred to the executor/beneficiaries without first obtaining either a grant of Probate or a grant of letters of administration. If the estate is under $15K, an application may not be required. However, many people nowadays have Kiwisaver savings which can often be worth over $15K and which will require an application to release the deceased’s Kiwisaver funds to the executor for distribution to the beneficiaries. Where there is no will, who inherits and how much is determined by the Administration Act.  

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