THE EXECUTOR ROLE IN NEW ZEALAND
Points from the Law Commission Report 134 (2015): Death, Burial & Cremation

Section 20.3 The Executor:
  • The person named in the deceased’s will to administer the deceased’s property.
  • Pays any debts.
  • Distributes remaining assets according to directions in the will.
  • Duties are set out in legislation.
  • Organises disposal arrangements for the deceased body.

Section 20.4:
Takamore v Clarke* addressed the executor role in NZ.
The effect of the judgment is that the executor:
  • has a duty and a right to decide the manner and place of disposal of the deceased;
  • that right only becomes operative when parties disagree over burial arrangements;
  • when exercising the right, the executor must take into account the deceased’s wishes, the wishes of those close to the deceased, tikanga Mà„ori, if relevant, and customary, cultural or religious preferences if these are raised by the deceased’s family or if they form part of the deceased’s heritage;
  • is not required to seek out the views of others but must take them into account if communicated to him or her.

Section 20.10: The wishes of the deceased
When making the burial decision, the executor must take into account any views expressed by the deceased as far as they are known.
The deceased’s burial directions are NOT legally binding, even if they have been set out in their will.
However, the executor may be expected to give significant weight to a deceased’s clearly expressed wishes.

The Executor's role includes to:
  • oversee the funeral arrangements
  • collate a list of assets and arranging for their disposal
  • ensure that all creditors are paid
  • notify appropriate agencies about the death
  • complete and file insurance documents and tax payments
  • locate all beneficiaries named in the will and arrange for transfer of assets to them.
  • apply to the High Court for probate
This may require advice from a lawyer and an accountant and can be time-consuming.
Because the duties are potentially quite demanding, a person nominated as an Executor in the will can decline to accept the role.

The Public Trust can advise families and executors about these issues.
- Phone 0800 371 471. Office hours Mon-Fri 8 AM to 5:30 PM.
Public Trust: website

*[2012] NZSC 116, [2013] 2 NZLR 733.