Home | Browse Topics | Family law | A death in the family | Getting court approval to deal with the estate

Family law

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

Getting court approval to deal with the estate

How do I find out if the deceased had a will? How do I find their will?

If you’re not sure if the deceased had a will, you should ask around your wider whānau first. If the deceased used a lawyer in the past (e.g., for buying a house), you could contact them. You can also check with the Public Trust.

Even if you have found a will, you should first make sure that you have the latest version, or if any changes to the original will were made (called “codicils”).

How do I apply for “probate”?

If the deceased left a will, and you’ve been named as executor, you’ll need to apply to the High Court to approve the will as valid, and to approve your power to deal with the deceased’s estate as the executor. This is called getting “probate” for the will.

When you apply for probate in the High Court, the application will need to be supported by a sworn statement (an “affidavit”) and other documents, all in the form required by the High Court Rules. Usually the paperwork for the application will be prepared by a lawyer acting for the estate, and the executor can then complete the process and file the application with the court.

If someone claims the will is invalid and challenges it in court, the process is more complicated and involves a High Court trial. In that case a lawyer will usually be needed to represent the deceased’s estate.

Do I need to apply to the High Court when there isn’t a will?

If there isn’t a will, someone needs to apply to the High Court for an order entitling them to deal with the estate (“letters of administration”).

The person given authority to deal with the estate is then called “the administrator”. This is usually the closest relative, or sometimes a trustee company or the Public Trust.

This process will also be necessary if the deceased left a will but it’s invalid or didn’t name an executor, or if the named executor is unable or unwilling to act – for example, they may have since died, or moved overseas.

If the deceased didn’t leave a will, they’re said to have died “intestate”. In these cases there are special rules (the “laws of intestacy”) that say who their property will go to, and in what proportions (see: “Who gets the property if there’s no will?”).

Did this answer your question?

A death in the family

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Confirmation of the cause of death – Coroners

The website of Coronial Services of New Zealand has information about the role of coroners in investigating the causes of deaths.

Website: coronialservices.justice.govt.nz

Registering a death

The Births, Deaths and Marriages section of the Department of Internal Affairs has information on what to do when someone passes, including registering a death.

Website: www.govt.nz/browse/family-and-whanau/death-and-bereavement

Burial and cremation

See your local council website for information about burial and cremation in your area.

Gathering kaimoana for tangihanga

The Ministry for Primary Industries has information on its website about Māori customary rights for gathering kaimoana for tangihanga, hui and other traditional purposes.

Website: www.mpi.govt.nz/fishing-aquaculture/maori-customary-fishing

Financial support for bereaved families

Work and Income’s website has information about possible financial support for funerals and tangihanga.

Website: www.workandincome.govt.nz/eligibility/urgent-costs/bereavement.html
Phone: 0800 559 009

ACC’s website has information about different types of accident compensation and payments that can be made to family members when a person has died in an accident.

Website: www.acc.co.nz/im-injured/financial-support/financial-support-after-death
Phone: 0800 101 996

Organ Donation New Zealand

Organ Donation New Zealand has information about organ and tissue donation.

Website: www.donor.co.nz

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top