Dealing with the deceased’s property: Wills, “intestacy”, and small estates

Small estates: No need for court approval

Court approval not necessary for amounts under $15,000

Administration Act 1969, ss 64-65, 82A; Administration (Prescribed Amounts) Regulations 2009, reg 4

If the estate is a small one, it may not be necessary to apply to the courts for approval to deal with the estate (probate for a will, or letters of administration if there’s no will). Banks, company directors and so on can transfer or pay the following to the executor-administrator or to family members or the beneficiaries who are entitled to it, without any need for probate or letters of administration:

  • money in bank accounts up to $15,000
  • shares worth up to $15,000
  • life insurance policies up to $15,000
  • government stock up to $15,000 and local authority stock up to $15,000.

The executor/administrator or beneficiary will usually need to provide a copy of the death certificate in these cases. The person or organisation paying or transferring the money or other property must also be satisfied that probate or letters of administration haven’t been granted.

Note: Even if court approval isn’t needed because it’s a small estate, the executor has to follow the directions in the will – and if there’s no will, the rules of intestacy saying who is entitled to what property are still binding.

Arranging your bank accounts in advance to take advantage of the small estate rules

It may be possible to re-arrange your finances before you die so that your estate comes under the special rules explained above for smaller estates. If for example you had $16,000 in one or more accounts with the same bank, you could transfer some of this money to an account with a different bank so that you now have less than $15,000 with each of the two banks. This will avoid the cost and time involved in applying to the High Court to get probate for your will, or letters of administration if you don’t have a will.

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