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Family law

Challenging a will

If you think the will isn’t legally valid

Is the will legally valid?

You might choose to challenge the legal validity of a will if:

  • the will was not properly signed and witnessed (see: “Is my will valid?”)
  • the deceased did not have full mental capacity (which means they were not able to make and understand decisions for themselves) when they signed the will
  • the deceased did not know what was in the will when they signed it
  • someone else fraudulently wrote or changed the will, or took advantage of the deceased and excessively influenced or coerced them to change the will.

Wills Act 2007, s 14

You have to go to the High Court to challenge the legal validity of a will. This is a complex process and usually requires the help of a lawyer.

As soon as you decide to challenge a will, you should file a warning (called a “caveat”) with the High Court. This means that when the executor/administrator applies to the High Court for probate of the will, they are required to notify you and serve you copies of the documents. You then become respondent to the application for probate and can file documents with the court to argue that the will is legally invalid.

You need to make sure to file this caveat before probate is granted. Technically, a court could declare a will invalid after granting probate, but it would be a much more difficult process, and some of the estate might have already been distributed.

Note: Even if a will doesn’t meet all the formal requirements for a valid will (for example, to have two witnesses), the High Court has a broad power to approve the will so long as the judge agrees that it expresses the deceased’s intentions.

What happens if the court declares that the will is invalid?

If the High Court decides that the will is invalid, it means:

  • that will is thrown out entirely, and:
  • any earlier will of the deceased is reinstated, or
  • if there is no earlier will, the deceased’s property will be dealt with under the laws of intestacy (see: “Who gets the property if there’s no will?”).

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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

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