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Administering an estate in the event of a death is a complex process, handled by the executor and often assisted by a lawyer.

If there is a will (and we recommend everyone having a will – you may be putting your family at risk without one, read more here), the executor is responsible for the distribution of the will maker’s assets. In essence, the will executor is the representative of the deceased, and has a number of duties accordingly.

So, who can be an executor? An executor can be anyone over the age of 18, but is commonly a close family member or friend, or a professional executor. If the will is complex, or the estate large, then we recommend a professional will executor, who understands the law around inheritance and has the skills to undertake the wishes of the deceased.

Today we will be exploring the top 10 duties of the executor, hopefully shedding light for you on how an estate is handled, and the typical processes behind administering a will.

1. Register the death and notify relevant organisations.

It is the will executor’s duty to register the death of the will holder and notify all relevant agencies. This includes notifying Inland Revenue, notifying the deceased’s bank, contacting the Department of Internal Affairs, and more. For more information about the immediate things to do following a death, the Citizens Advice Bureau has more information.

2. Locate the original will.

The executor will need to locate the will. This could be a simple task, or it could be more difficult – particularly if the original cannot be located. This may entail a need to place a notice in the official publication of the NZ Law Society, requesting confirmation that there is a will.

3. Advise friends, family and beneficiaries on the death.

One of the executor’s jobs is to advise individuals on the death of the deceased. That may include notifying them of the death, of funeral dates and so on.

4. Apply for probate if required.

Generally, most wills will require probate, ensuring the will becomes a public record which anyone can search for. If the estate has land, or assets worth more than $15,000 – including bank account funds, bonds or shares, or life insurance policies – then a probate is required.

5. Assist and pay for the funeral in accordance with the wish of the deceased.

Depending on whether the deceased wished to be buried or cremated, if is the executor’s responsibility to ensure these are carried out. It is important to note that these wishes are not legally binding. If the executor is a professional executor, they may leave settling the funeral to the family.

6. Secure the house, business, or other investments or assets of the deceased.

It is the executor’s job to make sure all the assets of the deceased are secure. The executor will have to identify all of the estate’s property. Then, the executor typically carries out the freezing of bank accounts, arranging the fulfilment of any life insurance policies and so on.

If you have been named as the executor, and have any questions about securing assets, and preparing them for distribution to beneficiaries, or to pay off debts, it is important to talk to a lawyer.

7. Settle any debts that the deceased has left.

It will be your responsibility to make sure any debts are settled in the event of death. The payment of debts will be due out of the estate, and come before the claims of beneficiaries.

8. Undertake any special wishes of the deceased.

If there are any special wishes of the deceased to be carried out, the executor will carry them out, as far as possible.

9. Distribute the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries named in the will.

This is the one that causes the most stress and grief, and for understandable reasons. Distribution of assets may be unexpected, or beneficiaries (or other related parties or friends) may feel that the distribution is unjust. A will typically outlines how assets are to be distributed, once any outstanding debts or taxes have been settled. Any claims against the estate will have to be dealt with accordingly. The executor will go on to undertake their transfer to beneficiaries in accordance with the will. The estate’s lawyers will help this process.

Have you been named a will executor? Or are you ready to write your will?

Looking for Wellington lawyers to help get your affairs in order? Make sure you contact Gillespie Young Watson today for assistance in all matters related to settling and writing a will document. We are experts in will law, and can help you get your affairs in order.