Around 1500 people die in New Zealand every year without a will.

But what happens to your assets if you haven't spelled out what you would like to happen?

Research by trustee company Perpetual Guardian has found there are plenty of misconceptions.

One in four people believed their assets would automatically go to their next of kin, spouse or children if they died without a will.

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A further 20 per cent admitted they didn't know, while 16 per cent believed their assets would go to the government or be administered by the government.

A spokesman for the New Zealand Law Society said it was essentially true that your next of kin will get your assets but there are rules around how much and who gets what and they may not match up to what you want.

Section 77 of the Administration Act 1969 sets out who benefits if a person dies without a valid will, which is called dying intestate.

For those with a spouse or partner but no living parents or children, the spouse will get all the assets.

For those with a spouse or partner who still have living parents, the spouse is entitled to the personal chattels plus $155,000 and two-thirds of anything that is left, with the parents receiving the remaining third.

Those with a spouse and children will see part of the estate go to the children.

"If the deceased has children and no partner or spouse, then the children will receive the estate in equal shares.

"Parents, siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles will receive set portions of the estate when there are no other relatives."

In a situation where the deceased has no family, the estate will pass to the state, the spokesman said.

You can read more about the split of assets for those without a will here.

Sorting everything out after a person dies is also not a quick process.

A will also covers issues like who will look after your pets when you die. Photo / 123RF
A will also covers issues like who will look after your pets when you die. Photo / 123RF

Even those with a will have to wait for probate.

This is a court order recognising the will is authentic and confirming the executor of the will has the legal authority to deal with the estate.

Those without a will have to apply for letters of administration.

The spokesman said it could take around six weeks for the High Court to process the application, or longer if the court is busy.

"After probate or letters of administration have been granted, the executor of the will or the administrator of the estate has to allow six to twelve months for any claims to be made against the estate before distributing the assets."

People say the biggest barriers to getting a will are procrastination or the belief they don't have enough assets to need one.

Others believe they are too young or are worried about the cost.

But getting a will may cost less than you think.

DIY will kits cost around $30 to $50, while a will made through government-funded Public Trust costs between $289 and $459.

A lawyer's fees for doing a simple will can be between $350 and $500.

Research by the Commission for Financial Capability has found 47 per cent of people have a will but it is much lower for non-Pākehā.

Just 20 per cent of Pasifika people have a will, while only 25 per cent of Asian people and 31 per cent of Māori people do.

Peter Cordtz, head of community programmes at the commission, said low uptake by Māori and Pasifika could be due to a cultural ethic of "collectivism", where money and possessions were expected to be shared.

"If a family strikes hardship the wider family and community will look after them. Among Pasifika particularly, there may also be a religious overlay, believing "God will provide'," he said.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell, who heads up the commission, said she had been told by Asian people that there was a superstition about wills, with many believing drawing one up invited death into the home.

But she said wills don't just cover your money and stuff, but everything you care about: who will raise your children, care for your pets, how you want your funeral to be run and where you want your final resting place to be.

"If you die without sorting this stuff it can create tension and fighting within your extended family, and your partner's extended family. The law gets involved and things can end up very different to how you might like." Maxwell said.

She also urged those with a will to ensure it remained updated when circumstances changed.

"Ultimately, in our last moments, we want our thoughts to be peaceful, happy and reflective, and to feel secure that our will has everything sorted for the people we're leaving behind. It's an act of love, made in advance."