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  • Jonelle Williams

Estate Administration - Executors Roles & Responsibilities

When you are appointed as an executor (and trustee) of a will it is important to understand the role. It is an honour to be asked, however the role comes with responsibilities and is time consuming and an unpaid role.

As a named executor, you can either accept the position or decline the position.

If you decide that you are not willing to perform the role and you have not had any dealings with the will-maker’s property after death, then you may renounce probate. This is done by signing a Renunciation of Probate document. This document is then filed with the High Court. The renunciation of Probate document is also referred to in the affidavit as the remaining executor(s) to explain why all the named executors are not applying for the grant of probate.

If you are willing to perform the role as an executor it is important before you agree that you understand what you are agreeing to.


  • Locate the original will, contacting their solicitor is usually the best option and conducting a search of their important papers. In the unlikely event that no will is located a solicitor can assist with advertising for a will with the New Zealand Law Society Will Search notices.

  • Contact the Funeral Director for funeral arrangements in accordance with any instructions in the will. The decisions relating to the funeral are up to the executor, however a preference may be put in their will. The executors are guided by those wishes in the will together with the wishes of family. The payment of the funeral expenses has priority and is paid first from the estate.

  • Notify banks, credit card companies and government agencies (e.g. Inland Revenue). We recommend that their bank is advised that the person has died as soon as possible. Although the bank account is frozen pending the grant of Probate the funeral expenses can be requested to be paid directly by the bank to the Funeral Director if the bank is provided with a copy of the funeral invoice and the death certificate (usually certified copies) and the executors approve the invoice for payment.

My Trove is a website which allows for executors to notify some banks and government and some insurers that a person has died

  • Apply for probate, if this is required. You will usually seek legal advice about whether an application for the grant of Probate is required. This is the application to the High Court of New Zealand. See Estate Guide.

  • The executors and trustees take a neutral position and owe a duty to treat the beneficiaries even-handedly. This duty extends to potential claimants against an estate, where an executor is aware that they may wish to make a claim

  • The executors and trustees need to keep a record of the inventory of the estate assets and liabilities. An account of the estate (estate statements) needs to be recorded that is accurate and states the dates and details of all receipts and disbursements and details relating to the capital and revenue account (for taxation).

  • Once probate is granted, call in the assets and pay all the debts and the funeral and testamentary expenses.

  • Maintain any property until it can be distributed or sold.

  • Have prepared and file the required personal and estate income tax returns and pay any tax owing.

  • Distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the will.


  • Both Powers of Attorney and Enduring Powers of Attorney (Property and Personal Care and Welfare) CEASE ON DEATH.

  • If personal chattels have not been mentioned separately in the will, then those items form part of the residuary estate.

  • If Probate is required, then once Probate is granted, the will which is attached to the Probate document becomes a public document and anyone can request a copy from the High Court of New Zealand, Wellington upon payment of a fee.

  • An executor may receive a request for a copy of a will before Probate is granted or applied for, by a potential beneficiary. We recommend that it would be prudent for the executor to provide a copy of the will in case there is to be a challenge to the will.

  • If the person had a joint bank account(s), the account is not frozen and the bank will be able to transfer the account into the sole name of the surviving account holder once the death certificate is available.

  • If the person had a house, then make sure that the property is insured and if the house is unoccupied that the unoccupied status has been notified to the insurer and this is confirmed in writing to the executor. The insurer will have a number of requirements for unoccupied homes which will need to be complied with. Also, the local council and regional council should be advised of the death and you should check that the rates payments are up to date.

  • If the executor does not apply for Probate within three (3) months of the death then one of the beneficiaries can apply to the High Court to be appointed as Administrator. This is not usual and is a complex process.

  • Executors need to be aware of the “Executors Year”. The time required to administer an estate can vary depending on the circumstances of each estate. We estimate that simple and mid-sized estates usually take between twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months to complete, from the date of the grant of Probate. However, estate administering can take longer depending on the number of assets of the estate and the number of beneficiaries.

  • An executor can be appointed as an executor and also be a beneficiary of the will.

  • If you do not accept the role of executor, this does not affect receiving any inheritance in the will.

  • It is important that executors take legal and accounting advice where necessary.

Once Probate is granted, if the estate is modest, the executor(s) and trustee(s) of the estate may prefer to carry out the terms of the will, without the assistance of solicitors, to keep the legal costs to a minimum, seeking legal advice when necessary.

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