When someone dies without leaving a will, this is called 'intestacy'.

Once it has been established that there is no will, an administrator is appointed (court approval isn't needed if it's only a small estate) to distribute the estate to surviving family members according to the rules of the Administration Act 1969.

The deceased person's "estate" is all their property, including their personal possessions (like clothes and jewellery), money in bank accounts, any house or other land they own, proceeds from insurance policies, and shares in companies.

The deceased's estate won't include any property that he or she owned jointly with a partner, like a house or bank accounts.

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As they owned them jointly this means that when one of them dies the other becomes the sole owner.

The law sets out an order of priority for who gets the deceased's property if he or she didn't leave a will, and in what proportions.

All those people are family members.

The basic order of priority is:
•the spouse, civil union partner or de facto partner (A de facto partner will usually only be entitled under the laws of intestacy if the relationship was for three years or longer – but there may be an exception if the de facto partner has made a substantial contribution to the relationship or there is a child of the relationship), then
•children (regardless of whether the parents were married)
•the deceased's parents
•brothers and sisters
•grandparents
•uncles and aunts.

If there are no living relatives the deceased's estate goes to the state.

People have the right to challenge the distribution of an intestate estate just like they have the right to challenge the distribution of an estate under a will.

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.

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No appointment is necessary for either of these services.