The death of a family member is always a sad and difficult time for those they leave behind. 

In many cases people pass away without leaving a Will.  This leaves family and friends answering questions as to who receives the property of the deceased. 

The legal framework to guide family as to who is to receive property of the deceased when they die without a Will is:

  1. When there is a spouse or partner but no parents, children, or other descendants – the spouse or partner receives the whole Estate of the deceased. 

  2. When there is a spouse or partner and children or other descendants – the spouse or partner will receive the personal items and chattels, for example, vehicles, boats, horses and equipment, as well as furniture and personal items such as clothing and jewellery. 

    The partner also receives $155,000.00 (if available, and with interest) and one third of the remainder of the Estate.  The children of the deceased will receive the remaining two thirds of the Estate.

  3. When there is a spouse or partner and parent but no children or other descendants – the spouse or partner is entitled to the personal items as above plus $155,000.00 (if available, and with interest) and two thirds of the remainder of the assets.  The parents receive a remaining one third of the Estate. 

  4. If there are children or other descendants but no spouse or partner - the children will receive the whole Estate equally, and if any of them have died their children will receive their parent’s share. 

  5. If there is no spouse or partner and no children but a living parent or parents- the whole of the Estate is divided between the parents.

  6. If there is no spouse or partner, parents or children, but there are brothers or sisters of the deceased still alive - the Estate is divided among the brothers and sisters and if any of them have died, their children will receive their share.

  7. If there is no spouse or partner, parents or children, or brothers and sisters alive, but there are grandparents or aunts and uncles - half of the Estate will go to the mother’s family, firstly to the grandparents and then to the aunts and uncles, and the other half will go to the father’s side of the family, firstly to the grandparents and then to the aunts and uncles.  Again if any aunt or uncle is deceased then his or her children, the cousins of the deceased, will receive their parent’s share.

  8. In the rare instance that somebody dies without any family, then everything passes to the State.  People who are not related, but who are dependent on the deceased person, or anyone such as friends who might reasonably expect to have benefitted, may apply to the New Zealand Treasury, which may pay out some of the Estate to them.

It is always best practice to ensure you have a Will and it is up to date, otherwise the above distributions will be made.  If you find yourself in a situation where a loved one has died without making a Will it is always helpful to get advice from a lawyer experienced in this area.



Shaun Cousins
Associate