The executor's role

The executor/s are the person/people named in the Will whose job is to administer the estate and carry out the terms of the Will (there may be only one person or there may be several). In many
or most cases executors are named also as trustees. Duties and responsibilities of executors and trustees are very similar, with the difference that the executors’ role finishes when the Will is
finalised and all distributions made, whilst the trustees’ role may continue for some time if trusts have been set up (see below).

Executors’ duties and responsibilities

Executors are required to carry out the terms of the Will. Executors’ duties and responsibilities include:

  • Studying the terms of the Will to make sure they understand it. If anything in the Will is unclear they should ask the estate’s lawyer to explain it.
  • Ensuring the deceased is buried or cremated, preferably in accordance with any wishes expressed in the Will. These wishes are, however, not legallybinding. If the executor is a professional executor or not a family member, they may leave it to the family to make the funeral arrangements.
  • Ensuring steps have been taken to secure the house, business or other assets of the deceased (see above). There’s more on this under ‘Immediately after the death’
  • Ensuring all wishes of the deceased as expressed in the Will are carried out, as far as possible. There are sometimes unforeseen issues to be dealt with which are covered in the sections on ‘Claims against an estate'  and ‘Correcting mistakes in Wills’.
  • Ascertaining details of the deceased’s assets, and undertaking or overseeing their transfer to beneficiaries. Family members will usually be able to provide this information. It’s normal practice for the estate’s lawyer to help the executors through this process.

The details required about the deceased's assets include:

  • Names, occupations and addresses of the executors, and their IRD numbers.
  • Names and addresses of the beneficiaries.
  • Dates of birth of any beneficiaries under 20 years of age (anything left to beneficiaries under the age of 20 must be held on trust until their 20th birthday unless the Will states otherwise).
  • Details of bank accounts, bonus bonds, investments, shares and debentures, unit trusts, mortgage investments, managed funds, KiwiSaver or other superannuation schemes, life insurance, any business interests, real property (residential home, investment property, etc) and motor vehicles.
  • Details of any jointly owned property.
  • Any liabilities.
  • Insurance policies held for property, contents and motor vehicles.
  • Name of employer, details of any work-related superannuation scheme and any other employee benefits payable on the death of an employee.
  • Passport.
  • Driving licence.

The executors must ensure all debts owed by the estate are paid: executors are personally liable to pay the estate debts unless they have advertised in a local newspaper under s35 of the Trustee Act 1956.

They must also ensure all tax and legal issues are dealt with appropriately.

Any jointly held assets automatically pass to the surviving owner and don’t form part of the estate.

It is, however, necessary to provide a copy of the certified death certificate to the banks and any other institutions that may hold jointly held assets with a request to transfer the asset to the surviving owner. In the case of land owned jointly, it’s necessary for the title to the land to be transferred into the name of the surviving owner. The estate‘s lawyer will prepare this documentation, and arrange signing and registration.

The executors’ role ends when all distributions are made to adult beneficiaries, and all expenses and tax have been paid. Executors will continue as trustees if money is held for under-age beneficiaries.