Trustee of an Estate – Hard Work as Well as Grief 09 Dec 2011

Dealing with the death of a friend or family member can be taxing but, if you have been appointed a trustee in their Will, there is often more work to do after the funeral. What does it all mean?

Parry Field Lawyers provide legal advice and assistance in administration of estates.

I’m an executor / trustee
If a will has been left, it will name one or more people as executors and trustees. Their duty is to represent the will-maker and carry out the instructions that have been left in the will.

What do I have to do?
Being appointed an executor / trustee is not an easy job. You have many responsibilities and can be held accountable for carrying out the job properly.

Firstly, you have to deal with the funeral arrangements, then assemble details of all assets and liabilities of the deceased to carry out the will. You should also check the insurance and security of assets such as houses and cars.

You can become embroiled in minor family disputes over who should receive small property items like china and cutlery but it’s the will that’s the legally binding document for all estate property. To distribute differently from the will provisions needs legal advice to avoid liabilities.

What about the lawyer?
The lawyer is there to help you carry out these duties and to protect you. At Parry Field we have designed a checklist for trustees detailing their initial responsibilities.

The formal “reading of the will” is a myth. Usually the lawyer will post copies of the will to the trustees and the beneficiaries (those who are to benefit under the will) following the death.

Once asset and liability details are known, a grant of Probate may be required. Probate is a document, ‘sealed’ by the High Court of New Zealand, which gives the Trustee power to effectively stand in the shoes of the deceased and deal with assets. Probate documents will be prepared by the lawyer, who can also arrange for assets to be cashed in, bills paid and any other paper work in connection with administration of the estate. The trustee is generally left with the more physical arrangements such as sale of personal items and clothing and preparing the home for sale.

The lawyer will communicate with the beneficiaries, pay interim distributions of money or property and finalise income tax matters. It is not unusual for it to take more than a year after death to complete tax finalisation.

Sometimes beneficiaries make claims against the estate because they are disappointed by a provision in a will, or may have been promised more during the lifetime of the deceased, or may be entitled to more by law. Lawyers will advise and guide the trustee in these matters.

Estate administration often involves delays, but the vast majority of estates are administered in an effective and timely manner.

A trustee’s job is full of duties, responsibilities and liabilities, without pay, generally without thanks and always time consuming. Including prearranged funerals and a payment to trustees in the will are always appreciated by those who have to bear the burden of trusteeships.

Contact your Parry Field lawyer if you wish to update your will or discuss pre-paid funeral options.

Should you need any assistance with this, or with any other Will related matters, please contact Ken Lord (348-8480) at Parry Field Lawyers.