When a person dies and leaves a will the person or people who have been named as the executor in the will have the job of distributing the estate.

If the deceased did not leave a will their estate is generally distributed by the deceased's closest living relative, this person is called the administrator.

The role of the executor or administrator is to administer the deceased's estate, which includes settling any debts that the deceased has left and distributing the remainder to the beneficiaries named in the will or according to the rules of intestacy.

If the deceased's estate includes land (or an interest in land), or one or more of the financial assets are worth more than $15,000, then probate or letters of administration will have to be obtained.

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If these are not required, the executor or administrator will probably need to provide evidence of the death (eg the death certificate), to the organisations holding the funds (eg the bank).

Probate is a court order recognising a will as authentic and confirms that the executor has the legal authority to deal with the deceased's estate.

"Letters of administration" is similar to probate except that it applies when the deceased did not leave a will.

It appoints someone to administer the deceased's estate according to the rules of intestacy.

Applications in writing to the High Court for these to be granted are usually made through a lawyer.

It generally takes around four to six weeks for the High Court to process the application.

Inquiries as to progress of an application can be made by calling the Courts of New Zealand on 0800 268 787.

Once probate or the letters of administration have been granted, the executor or administrator has to allow at least six months (up to 12 months), for any claims to be made on the estate, before they can distribute the assets.

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For free and confidential advice and information on this or any other matter visit the Palmerston North Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Hancock Community House, 77 King St.

Opening hours, Monday-Friday from 9am-4.30pm, call 357 0647 or 0800 367 222. We have a free legal advice service by qualified lawyers most Thursday evenings at 7.30pm, and a JP is available on Tuesdays from noon-2.30pm. No appointment is necessary for either of these services.