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Ensuring what you want happens

Trustees Executors explains the reasons for having a will and how they work.

Wednesday, August 14th 2002, 6:37AM

Right through life, you make decisions and take responsibility. And you work hard to provide financial security for yourself and the people you care about. But if you don’t have a will, you lose the power to decide what happens to your assets when you die.

Instead, the law decides for you. And the rules could mean people close to you don’t benefit from your assets in the way that you would want – or miss out altogether.

This can lead to much unhappiness in families or even hardship.

It’s not just financial things that you need to consider. Smaller, personal items may be just as precious – family jewellery or heirlooms, pictures or special pieces of furniture.

Making a will lets you make the choices about the things you’ve built up or had handed down to you, when you die. It lets you give directions about your funeral, choose the guardians you’d want for your children, rather than the Family Court, and it also helps preserve the value of your assets.

If you don’t have a will people you don’t want to benefit from your estate may receive some or all of your assets. For instance, if you have separated recently but you’re not yet divorced your former spouse could still receive a significant share. Even if you’re married and living happily together, the results may not be what you want.

One thing is certain: it is more complicated and more expensive to wind up your estate if you die without leaving a will.

The costs must come from your estate, reducing the amount available for distribution.

Deciding what’s to be done and choosing Executors to wind things up can also cause considerable family friction unless these issues are clearly laid out in a will.

Your will should include all the special requests you want to make. For example:

• Specific gifts of articles, jewellery or furniture.

• Cash legacies or bequests to people or charities.

• How you want the rest of your assets (the residue of your estate) to be distributed.

• Special instructions for your burial or cremation.

• Who you want to act as guardian if you have infant children.

• Who you want as Executor.

The Executor is the person or organisation that collects in your assets and distributes them in accordance with your will.

The Executor administers your estate. Anyone can be Executor of your will, even a beneficiary. Just so long as you are confident in their ability to faithfully carry out the terms of your will. Ideally they should be living in New Zealand to avoid delays.

You can have more than one Executor, however they must be able to work together as their decisions must be unanimous. You can also appoint a trustee company, like Trustees Executors, that acts as a professional Executor.

There is a series of clearly defined steps your Executor must follow in administering your estate.
They include:

• Obtaining probate – legal authority to deal with the estate’s assets

• Confirming, calling-in and protecting the estate’s assets

• Identifying and paying debts

• Tracing beneficiaries

• Responding to legal challenges

• Distributing the assets

• Accounting for the estate.

Appointing an Executor is one of the key decisions to make in drawing up your will. There are several reasons why it makes sense to appoint Trustees Executors – either as sole Executor, or as co-Executor to lend professional support to a "lay person" such as a family member. It gives you the reassurance of knowing your estate will be expertly and professionally handled after you die.

It also means you have the benefit of skilled and experienced advice to prepare a will that expresses your wishes fully and in a way that you can be sure is legally binding.

Being well-organised can help make your estate easier and less costly to wind up. As well as making a well-thought out will, it helps if you have an up to date list of assets and if you keep those assets as well organised as possible. Steps you can take include:

• Tidying up and consolidating assets – eg. Selling small parcels of shares which simply add work later for little value.

• Considering joint ownership of assets. Jointly owned assets simply pass to the survivor rather than becoming part of the estate.

• A trust can take assets out of your name to simplify your estate. In effect you can distribute your estate during your lifetime.

And remember – even if you have a will, you need to maintain it. Major changes in your life affect your will. You should be aware of the circumstances when you may want to review your will or make a new one. These may include the following:

• If you marry or remarry.

• If you’re in a long-term relationship.

• If you separate.

• If you have children.

This article is supplied by Trustees Executors . Trustees Executors expertise in estate administration can save the family all the worry of completing the detailed steps involved in administering an estate. We have over 120 years of experience in helping New Zealanders draw up wills and in administering estates, and we understand the legislation and Court judgements that affect what can be a tricky area of the law. We also have a keen understanding of the sometimes delicate personal, family and emotional issues that can be involved in estate planning.

If you want to draw up a new will, need to update an existing one, or would like more information on wills and estate administration, talk to your local client account manager or call Trustees Executors toll-free on 0800 Trustees (0800 87 87 83).

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