A young man was appointed as Executor of his Aunty’s will.  He didn’t know he had been appointed until he was contacted by the lawyers acting for the Estate.  He had no idea what this role entailed, and had to quickly try to understand his obligations prior to signing the application for Probate.

Agreeing to be an Executor is an important decision.  Before accepting, you should be sure you understand what you are agreeing to.

What is the role of the Executor of a Will?

The role of the Executor is to:

  • Locate the original Will.
  • Bury the Deceased in accordance with any instructions in the Will.  Matters relating to the funeral are up to you to decide as the Executor, but people often put their preferences in their Will.  Executors are usually guided by those wishes together with the wishes of the immediate family.
  • Apply for Probate.  If the Deceased’s assets (other than personal items) are over $15,000, you as the Executor will need to apply for Probate of the Will.  This is the High Court’s seal of approval to administer the Estate.  You will need to instruct a lawyer to do this on your behalf.  If the Deceased’s assets (other than personal items) are under $15,000 then you will need to contact the investment provider/bank where the funds are held and find out what their requirements are to uplift the proceeds of such investments and accounts.
  • Notify banks, credit card companies and government agencies (for example Inland Revenue Department and Work and Income New Zealand) of the Deceased’s death. 
  • Get an inventory of the assets and liabilities of the Deceased.
  • Call in the assets and pay all the debts and testamentary expenses.
  • File a final personal and estate tax return and pay any tax.
  • Maintain any property until it can be distributed or sold. 
  • Distribute the Estate in accordance with the terms of the Will.

Some points to be aware of…

  • Any Enduring Powers of Attorney cease on death.

  • If personal chattels have not been separately mentioned in the Will, these will form part of the residuary estate (being the balance of the estate) 
  • Once the Will has been probated at the High Court it becomes a public document and anyone can request a copy from the High Court.
  • If the Deceased has a bank account in their sole name then the Bank will block access to the account as soon as they receive notification of the passing of the Deceased.
  • If the Deceased had a house, then make sure that you do not cancel the insurance, however if the property is unoccupied you should let the insurance company know.
  • If an Executor does not apply for Probate within three months of the death then one of the beneficiaries can apply to the High Court to be appointed Administrator of the estate.  There is a quite complicated process that is followed to do this before the High Court will issue a grant in the name of a person other than the Executor named in the Will. 
  • Executors need to be aware of the “Executor’s year” within which Executors should endeavour to complete administration and distribution to the beneficiaries.  Some Estates will be complicated and can take longer than this. 
  • Executors are personally liable for any distributions made in the 6 months following the Grant of Probate, so should take advice if they intend to distribute before this time.
  • The Executor can be a beneficiary of the Will as well.

It is important to be aware of your obligations and responsibilities as an Executor, to ensure you don’t get caught out.  The lawyers acting for the Estate will guide you through the Estate administration process.


Michelle Buckley
Registered Legal Executive
Wellington