Experts warn of surge in legal action among families.

As the extended family of superstar Prince squabble over his $450 million fortune, Kiwis are being urged to make sure they have a will.

About half of New Zealand adults don't have a will and about 1500 die intestate each year, legal experts told the Herald on Sunday.

After Prince's recent sudden death, his only surviving full sibling, sister Tyka Nelson, said he had no known will and asked the court to appoint an administrator. However, Prince has five half-siblings and numerous people claiming to be his "love child". It is likely to be a mess that will take years to sort.

Wellington-based trusts and estates lawyer Greg Kelly said if there was one thing to learn it was that everyone should have a will and it's never too early to make one.


"Some people leave it too late, which can lead to expensive and lengthy court proceedings and cause lasting acrimony among families."

Kelly said there has been an increase in legal action over wills in New Zealand in recent years because of people having more than one marriage or de facto relationship.

"Children and stepchildren of the deceased can feel aggrieved about the arrangements if they are not set out clearly or no will has been made," he said. In New Zealand, if there's no will, your estate will be divided up according to the Administration Act.

In this event, your spouse or partner gets your personal chattels, the first $155,000 of the estate and one-third of the rest. The other two-thirds goes to your children.

If you have no children, your partner gets the personal chattels, the first $155,000 and two-thirds of the rest. Your parents get the other third. Your partner gets the lot if your parents have died.

If you have children but no partner, the entire estate is left to the children equally. If you have no partner or children, your parents inherit. If your parents have died, the entire estate is left to blood relatives or, if none, the Crown.

In the past, wills were required to be witnessed by two people or drawn up by a lawyer. But legislation introduced in 2007 means the High Court can rule wills written on notes or stored on computer files are valid if the court is satisfied the document is genuine. "Even a suicide note can be accepted if it is thought it represents the person's true wishes," Kelly said. "Before the new Act, things were a lot more strict.

"I recall one case when a nurse was supposed to have witnessed a dying man making a will in his hospital bed. It was later shown he had actually signed it when she had been called away from the ward so it was ruled invalid.


"These days the will may very well have been accepted as being valid if shown it was done in good faith."

Professor Nicola Peart of Otago University's law faculty believed up to 200 makeshift wills had been validated under the new law.