Edmonds Judd

Estate

Enduring powers of attorney and the transition from attorney to executor upon death

Enduring powers of attorney are legal documents that allow individuals to appoint someone to make decisions on their behalf in case they become incapacitated.

 

There are two types of enduring powers of attorney that someone can put in place:

 

  1. Property: this grants authority over financial and property matters including managing assets, paying bills, and making financial decisions. A person could appoint more than one attorney to act jointly and/or severally and direct that the powers of attorney can immediately come into effect so that the attorney can manage their property while they have mental capacity and continue to act once they become incapacitated. They can appoint a successor attorney to act in the event the first attorney is unable or unwilling to act.

 

  1. Personal care and welfare: this delegates authority over personal matters like health care and consent to treatments. A person can only appoint one attorney at a time, and it can only come into effect when they have lost their mental capacity. A successor attorney can also be appointed.

 

Specific requirements and restrictions can be put on the attorney such as a requirement to consult with or provide information to another person or to only act in relation to specific property matters. The attorney can only act in accordance with the powers given by the enduring power of attorney document. These powers are only to be used when the person who appointed the attorney is still alive.

 

When a person dies, their enduring power of attorney comes to an end, shifting the responsibility of managing their estate to the appointed executors named in their will.

 

Although an attorney may have been appointed to manage the deceased’s affairs when they were alive, the same person may not be appointed as the executor of the deceased’s estate upon their death. It is essential for individuals to understand the transition of responsibilities from enduring powers of attorney to executors upon their death. The attorney will cease to act, and the executors named in the will or appointed by the court step in to manage the deceased person’s estate. This includes handling the distribution of assets, paying off any debts, and ensuring that the deceased’s wishes are carried out according to their will.

 

You should speak to your lawyer to ensure that your affairs are managed how you intend in the event you die or become incapacitated.


New Year – New Will

The new year is an opportunity to reflect on your life and your wishes for the future, including how you want to provide for your loved ones when you pass away.

 

The most important aspects of your will include the people in charge of your estate (your executors), what happens to your assets, the guardian of your children and your funeral/burial wishes. If you do not have a will or a valid will, then you do not get to decide these aspects for yourself.

 

Having a will is particularly important for parents and those with assets worth $15,000 or more (including Kiwisaver).

 

If you have a will, you should review it regularly to ensure your will is practical, up to date and valid.

 

Is my will valid? Common traps

 

Marriage or Civil Union

Ordinarily, a will is automatically revoked when you marry or enter into a civil union. If you have a will but have since married or entered into a civil union (or intend to in the near future), then you should review or update your will to ensure it is still valid.

 

Divorce or Separation

A separation does not automatically revoke your will. If you have separated and your ex-partner is still in your will, any gifts to them will remain valid unless you have a separation order or a court order dissolving the marriage or civil union.

 

For this reason, your will should be updated as soon as possible post-separation.

 

Witnessing Requirements

There are strict requirements for a will, one of which is having two adult independent witnesses. To be independent, the witnesses cannot benefit under the will or be a spouse, civil union or de facto partner of a person who will benefit under the will.

 

For example, Jane has a will that leaves everything to her son and daughter. Jane prepares her will at home and has her friend and her son’s wife witness her will. Unfortunately, her son’s wife is not independent and therefore the gift to Jane’s son will be void.

 

Circumstances that should trigger a will review

 

If one or more of the following apply to you, it’s time to review your will:

 

  • Family births or deaths;
  • Aging – contemplating the possibility of residential care;
  • Family members moving overseas (especially if they are your executor, as this can add cost and complication to your estate administration);
  • Creation of a family trust;
  • Winding up of a family trust;
  • Buying a property;
  • Change in assets or financial status;
  • Change in relationship status;
  • Change in family dynamics (e.g. estrangement); and/or
  • Simply a change of wishes.

 

Most people will have multiple wills during their lifetime, simply because life is full of change. If you don’t have a will, it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your will or you’ve had a change in circumstance, we encourage you to speak with your lawyer about your will.


Estates and guarantees

Can cause difficult legal issues

Guarantees entered into by a person during their lifetime can create some difficult legal issues for their executor after they die.

 

Limiting a guarantee

The terms of most guarantees allow a guarantor to give notice; this stops further liabilities accruing. In an estate situation, this will not alter the liabilities accrued to date, however the executor who is aware that an estate is liable under a guarantee may need to issue a stop notice to protect the estate’s position to maximise the value of the estate.

This can be a difficult decision for an executor, particularly where (for example) a guarantee is important for the ongoing viability of, say, a family member’s business.  However, where the estate does not have an interest in that business, the executor may need to do this anyway as the estate’s position is the executor’s responsibility, and the interests of all beneficiaries must be prioritised, even if the decision causes dissatisfaction for one.

 

Calling up a guarantee

Where a guarantor has died, and the guarantee is called up after their death, the estate is liable to the lender in the usual way.

In the situation where the estate is only one of several co-guarantors, the executor may need to decide whether to seek contributions from the co-guarantors. The executor may also need to take legal action to enforce payment by co-guarantors.

Where any of the co-guarantors are also beneficiaries of the estate, it may also be necessary for the executor to take advice about the extent to which any liability for contribution to the guarantee can be met by funds that the beneficiary is to receive under the terms of the will.

 

Rights of contribution between co-guarantors

The default position is that co-guarantors share an equal liability to meet a common debt. Where one guarantor pays more than their fair share of the debt to the lender, they are entitled at equity to seek an equal contribution from their co-guarantors.

Complications can arise, however, where a co-guarantor is insolvent. In that situation, the other solvent co-guarantors may have to contribute proportionally to meet the shared debt. This means that an estate might be held liable for more than its ‘fair’ share of the debt.

 

Co-guarantors who are also beneficiaries

The situation becomes more complex when a co-guarantor is also a beneficiary of the estate that has paid the debt. Can the executor claim contributions towards the debt paid by withholding the beneficiary’s share of that debt from their entitlement under the will? Although the court has confirmed that a beneficiary owing money to an estate cannot claim a share of their interest without first settling the debt, an executor should not automatically deduct a debt from a beneficiary’s entitlement.

Rather, the first step will usually be for the executor to approach the relevant beneficiary first by letter and then a formal demand. If a beneficiary persistently refuses to fulfil their debt, an executor can then retain that beneficiary’s share or interest to recover their relevant contribution. The executor should then seek the approval of the High Court to deduct the beneficiary’s share of the debt from their estate entitlement.

 

Interests of beneficiaries take priority

Personal guarantees can create tricky issues for an executor to deal with, particularly in family situations. The estate’s position is the executor’s responsibility, and the interests of the beneficiaries of the estate must be the executor’s priority – even if it means one beneficiary is unhappy because they are affected by the executor’s decision.

While it does not commonly arise, the right of contribution is also something the executor may need to explore for the benefit of the estate as a whole and seek some advice. In some circumstances the executor may also need to go to the High Court for assistance where one beneficiary will not cooperate.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Careful will drafting is essential

For many charities, gifts in wills (bequests) are a significant source of funding.

Sometimes, however, charitable bequests cannot take effect when wills are not carefully drafted. There can be considerable time and cost associated with addressing that situation and trying to ensure the bequest can go to the charity you intended. This article looks at ways your wishes for a charitable bequest have the best prospect of being fulfilled.

Most of the time, bequests to charities fail (and cannot take effect) because there are changes in charitable organisations over time, the will is not updated for many years and/or the will does not contain a suitable power for the executors to address these situations.

 

Changes in charities over time

It is common for charities to restructure.  Many charities once had a number of local branches, which were all registered as individual charities, but they have now consolidated into one overall national organisation, and the local branches  disestablished. Some organisations may have changed their name or amalgamated with other charities.

Wills frequently misdescribe charities. The name of the charity may not have been checked on the Charities Register to ensure it was correctly described or the organisation may have restructured since the will was prepared. Wills commonly leave bequests to charities that no longer exist. This can mean the bequest fails.

 

Wills can include special clauses

In some cases, these problems can be addressed by careful will drafting. Wills can include clauses addressing the potential for charitable organisations to be misdescribed or to change over time. Also, many wills contain a power for an executor to pay funds to the trustees or officers of a charitable organisation without being required to follow up on how the gift is then used. For example:

  • A power could be included providing that if a charitable organisation has been misdescribed, the executor of the will may pay the gift, at their discretion, to what they consider to be the correct organisation, and
  • A power could be included that says that if a particular charitable organisation no longer exists in the form described, the gift may be paid to:
  • Any successor organisation
  • Any amalgamated organisation which the named organisation became a part of or its assets were transferred to, or
  • If the organisation has entirely ceased to exist, to such charitable organisation as the trustees, at their discretion, consider most closely carries out the same charitable purposes.

Where wills do not contain clauses to this effect, the High Court may be able to assist, although this can be very expensive.

 

An example

In a recent case[1], Margaret Barrow’s will (which was drafted in 2000) left funds to the Medical Research Council of New Zealand (MRC). The MRC existed until 1990 when it was dissolved by Parliament, and a new Crown entity, the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), was created in its place.

Ms Barrow’s executor applied to the High Court to interpret the reference to the MRC as referring to the HRC.

Despite the fact that the MRC had not existed for 10 years when the will was drafted, it appeared that neither Ms Barrow nor her lawyer had realised that the MRC had been succeeded by the HRC. The will file, which was more than 20 years old, had been destroyed, so there was no record of Ms Barrow’s instructions to her lawyer. Evidence was given, however, that in 2000, there was no online register of charities, and it is possible that this was the reason for the misdescription.

The High Court noted that the assets and liabilities of the MRC had become the assets and liabilities of the HRC, and the HRC was clearly the successor organisation. It ordered that Ms Barrow’s will should be interpreted as referring to the HRC rather than the MRC.

If the High Court had not been able to interpret Ms Barrow’s will to refer to the HRC, the next step may have been to prepare a scheme under the Charitable Trusts Act 1957. That process is time-consuming and often more expensive than applying to the High Court to interpret a will. If an application to interpret the will is an option, it will usually be faster and less expensive. However, it is best if an application to the High Court can be avoided entirely.

 

Check the Charities Register

When making bequests to a charity, it is prudent to check the Charities Register here to ensure that charity still exists. It is also useful to include clauses in wills that address the possibility of the charity being restructured or disestablished. This can save time and cost, and help carry out a will-maker’s intentions more effectively.

[1] Re Barrow [2023] NZHC 1146.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Refusing an inheritance

What options does a trustee have?

What is the trustee of an estate supposed to do when a beneficiary will not accept their inheritance?

This was the question faced by Mr Holland, executor and trustee of the estates of Margaret Glue and her husband, Ian Glue.[1] Margaret died in 2005, leaving a life interest in her estate to her husband Ian, and her remaining estate to her two sons. Ian died in 2009, also leaving his estate equally to his two sons, David and John.

 

Best efforts to contact beneficiary

John received his inheritance shortly after Ian’s death in 2009; John died in 2019. David, however, was unable to be contacted, despite Mr Holland’s efforts to contact him for well over a decade. His inheritance was worth approximately $300,000 as at August 2022. Mr Holland had written to David advising him of his inheritance and asking for a bank account number so the funds could be deposited.

David lived in London. Mr Holland had arranged for a professional investigator to confirm that David lived at the address known to him, and where correspondence had been sent. It was confirmed that David did live at that address; this was understood to be local authority housing (similar to ‘council housing’ in New Zealand).

 

Actively avoiding contact?

There was a suggestion that David may have wished to avoid receiving his inheritance as it could have disqualified him from living in that property. Welfare or social housing benefits are means-tested in many countries; it is common for these to become unavailable if a recipient’s assets exceed a certain threshold.

It is possible that David did not want to receive his inheritance because he thought he would be better off with stable and affordable housing, rather than receiving his inheritance that would then be dissipated on more expensive housing and eventually leave him in the same position. There was no specific evidence on the point, however, as David would not engage with the trustee, so this was only conjecture.

 

What next?

Mr Holland had held the inheritance for more than a decade and he wanted to be freed from his trustee obligations to David. Mr Holland applied to the High Court for an order[2] asking for permission to distribute the inheritance to John’s children, on the basis that David was ‘missing’ and his entitlement should be disregarded. Mr Holland swore an affidavit that he had known Margaret and Ian Glue for many years, and they would have wanted their descendants to benefit from their estate. He thought that Margaret and Ian would have preferred that the beneficiaries of John’s estate (i.e. his children) receive the inheritance, than for the money to sit indefinitely in case David eventually decided to accept it.

The High Court noted that section 136 of the Trusts Act 2019 applied to beneficiaries who are ‘missing.’ It said that David was ‘decidedly not missing’; he could be found, but he simply would not engage with the trustee or accept his inheritance. Initially the court proposed that the money be paid to the Crown to be held in case David ever made a claim, but it was persuaded that this was not what Margaret and Ian would have wanted.

The High Court found that even though David was not missing, section 136 applied anyway because:

  1. The trustee had taken reasonable steps to bring the inheritance to David’s attention, over more than 10 years
  2. More than 60 days had passed since the trustee’s last attempt to contact David, and
  3. In the circumstances, it was reasonable to disregard David’s position and direct that the inheritance be paid to John’s estate (and therefore to his beneficiaries), as though David did not exist.

 

The lessons in this case

While it is unusual for a beneficiary to fail to claim their inheritance, it can happen, and they may have good reasons for doing so. That can, however, make things difficult for an executor or trustee who is holding funds on their behalf.

This case is a good reminder that a trustee who is in this situation may have other options and will not be forced to hold the funds indefinitely.

[1] Re Holland [2023] NZHC 464.

[2] Under section 136 of the Trusts Act 2019.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Bank of children

Children helping their parents

Most of us have heard of the expression ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ where parents help fund their children to get onto the property ladder or with another investment.

 

What happens in the reverse situation, however, where children become the ‘bank’ and assist their parents financially?

 

Why would this happen?

In recent years, parents may have assisted their children in allowing their property to be used as security for borrowings by their children, they could have helped fund the deposit for a child’s first property or provided financial support in a number of other situations.

 

Sometimes, the boot is on the other foot when parents retire or have their income reduced. That may be the time for children to repay the favour and assist their parents.

 

Family-wide discussion

If children are considering helping out their parents financially, we recommend that you have a family-wide discussion on what sort of assistance could be provided.

 

It is important that the entire family is aware of any proposed arrangements, especially if not all of the children are going to be involved. Those children who are assisting may become part-owners of their parents’ property as part of the agreement.

 

There are various family arrangements that could apply but some children may already own their own home. Other children may already be living with or intend moving in with their parents. All of these circumstances will need to be considered.

 

Contact your parents’ lender

Presuming the transaction will be funded by a loan, rather than cash from the children to the parents, the next step is for the parents to contact their lender (usually their bank) to discuss its requirements. The lender may require the current lending for the parents to be discharged and an updated finance application in the name of all of the joint owners with new loan documents. Often, the lender requires the added security and details of a child’s income for the application.

 

See your lawyer

To prevent any future difficulties and dissention in the family, it is important to arrange suitable documents such as a property sharing agreement. This records each party’s responsibility for who and how the family will use the property, loan repayments, maintenance of the property, rates, insurance and a sale process for the property should there be a breakdown in the parties’ relationship or if one of the parties wishes to sell.

 

A property sharing agreement will be the guiding document for the arrangement. As well as ensuring you have a will in place, the agreement can cover what will happen to the parent’s share of the property when they die. The last thing parents want is a falling out between their children.

 

Other things to consider

Other considerations for both parents and children include:

  • The children’s ability to use KiwiSaver funds in the future to purchase their own home
  • Current and future relationships of the children
  • Parents moving into a rest home and how subsidies could be affected
  • The alternative of a reverse mortgage, and
  • Review of wills and enduring powers of attorney.

 

Conclusion

With increases in interest rates and the rise in the cost of living, more retiring parents may face the difficulty of retaining their family home. Rather than the option of a sale, children may be able to assist with the retention of their parents’ home and keeping past memories alive.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Trusts and succession

Trustee duties in farm succession planning

In a previous edition[1] of Rural eSpeaking, we covered certain aspects of the changes to trust law brought about by the Trusts Act 2019, particularly in relation to succession. That article focused primarily on the duties imposed by the Act on trustees to provide information to beneficiaries and some of the implications of that.

The Act also codified trustees’ duties to beneficiaries, with the guiding principle set out in section 21:

‘In performing the mandatory duties set out in sections 23 to 27 and (except to the extent modified or excluded by the terms of the trust) the default duties set out in sections 29 to 38, a trustee must have regard to the context and objectives [our emphasis] of the trust.’

The mandatory duties are pretty self-explanatory. These are a duty to:

  • Know the terms of the trust
  • Act in accordance with the terms of the trust
  • Act honestly and in good faith, and
  • Act for the benefit of beneficiaries or to further permitted purpose of the trust.

Those duties would all seem self-evident, but practice suggests that many trustees have difficulty in knowing the terms of the trust or acting in accordance with the terms of the trust, particularly without advice.

In that situation, a trustee’s duty is to ensure that they are appropriately advised so that they can carry out their duties properly.

Default duties bring the most angst

It is the default duties that are likely to cause trustees more difficulty. These duties can be modified by the trust deed and virtually all new trust deeds since the Act has come into force modify these to the maximum extent permissible. Older trust deeds may impliedly modify some or all of these, but not by specific reference to the Act (for obvious reasons).

There are 11 default duties but the ones most likely to cause trustees difficulty in terms of succession or future planning are the duties to:

  • Not exercise power for their own benefit
  • Not bind or commit trustees to future exercise of discretion
  • Avoid conflict of interest, and
  • Act impartially.

Affecting farm succession planning

If trustees are considering a succession plan for a trust-owned farm property that may not result in an equality of treatment between beneficiaries, the first step is to have a thorough review of the trust deed. The review will ascertain exactly who the beneficiaries are; in the case of the older trusts this could be a wide group. From this, trustees can establish what restrictions there are on their power to act, particularly where there is some element of favouring one beneficiary over another (common in a farm succession scenario), or acting in the favour of one or more beneficiaries who may also be trustees.

Many trust deeds have been reviewed, or are under review, since the Act came into effect on 30 January 2021. Where possible, trust deeds are being modified to ensure that, as far as possible, these default duties are excluded. Some older trust deeds, however, don’t have a power to vary the terms of the trust. In this situation, trustees are faced with having to act within the terms of the existing trust or, where there is a power of resettlement, exercising their power to resettle the entire trust capital on a new trust, although this can be an expensive exercise and have tax implications. Another option is court orders.

Who are the beneficiaries?

The other area that trustees are looking at is the definition of beneficiaries. Older trust deeds tend to have an extremely wide beneficiary pool.

One way to limit the exposure of trustees to challenges from disaffected beneficiaries is to reduce that beneficiary pool to core family members, and to exclude the wider family such as spouses, stepchildren, etc.

Why is this all important?

In the context of farm succession, families often have the difficulty of having significant capital assets but insufficient cash or borrowing capability to enable absolute equality between children if one child is going to have the farm.

Often the other children are asked to accept a lesser share of the trust to enable  the farming operation to be carried on by one sibling. By reducing the beneficiary pool, and by excluding the trustees’ default duties as far as possible, there is greater protection for the trustees when making decisions about which some beneficiaries may be unhappy.

 

Risks

There is, however, always a risk in amending a trust deed by excluding certain beneficiaries and excluding trustees’ default duties. The risk is that by making those decisions, the trustees can leave their actions open to challenge – on the basis that they weren’t exercising their power to exclude beneficiaries or vary the trust for a proper purpose; this is one of the mandatory duties that cannot be excluded. If, for example, a group of trustees exclude all the settlor’s children except for one and then remove all their default duties in order to leave the trustees free to benefit that beneficiary solely, the previous decision (to exclude beneficiaries, and varying the trust) would be open to challenge.

 

Have a plan all can live with

As always for succession matters, the best answer is to come up with a plan that all of the core beneficiaries can live with and buy into. This would ordinarily take some time to plan so that the farming operation is in a position to enable the desired succession to take place and also to accommodate siblings who are not involved in the farming operation.

Sometimes, however, this isn’t possible. If the trustees are faced with making difficult decisions that may be unpopular with some beneficiaries, they must be very careful to understand what they can and cannot do and to seek (and take) professional advice.

[1] Rural eSpeaking, Autumn 2021, No 35.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


It can sometimes be confusing when we talk about an attorney (for an Enduring Power of Attorney – EPA) and an executor who is appointed in your will and who looks after your estate when you die. The difference, as outlined below, is literally a matter of life and death.

 

An EPA

An EPA is used when you may not be able to make decisions for yourself. For example, you may become very unwell, or unable to communicate important decisions (you could be away from email or phone access for some time), leading in either case to an inability to make important decisions. Your attorney is the person you trust to act in your best interests – with your property and your wellbeing.

 

There are two types of EPA – property, and personal care and welfare. Your attorney can be the same person/s or you can choose different people for these two roles.

 

An attorney’s role

Your property attorney can manage your finances, they can sell your house if necessary and even buy Christmas and birthday gifts for specific people. Your personal care and welfare attorney can make decisions about your medical care, help choose a rest home if you need to move, and consult with other family members about your health.

 

Most importantly, your attorney makes decisions in your best interests; they only have as much power as you give them in your EPA. Your personal care and welfare attorney cannot, for example, withhold life-saving medical treatment; it is absolutely up to you to decide what your attorney can, and cannot, do.

 

Who needs an EPA?

EPAs aren’t just for the elderly. They are also for the young man who has had serious injuries in a car accident  and struggles with his memory, and for the 50-year-old who is working offshore and wants her partner to sign documents on her behalf.

 

Without an EPA, nobody can make decisions on your behalf if you can’t make them for yourself. Your parents, spouse or children don’t automatically have this right. The only way around this is to spend thousands of dollars working through the Family Court to get an attorney appointed.

 

A will

A will is the document that states where you want your assets to go after you die. Your will appoints an executor, or several executors; they will carry out the wishes that are stated in your will.

 

Executor’s role

An executor works with us to administer your estate and carry out the terms of your will.

 

Your executor calls in your assets and pays any money you may owe. They ensure, for example, that your daughter gets your engagement ring, your life insurance pays off your mortgage and they invest the rest of your money until your children turn a specified age and can get their inheritance.

 

Get your affairs in order

Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to the intestacy rules that govern who gets what from what your estate. Without a will, your family may not get what they expect or what you want which could be very upsetting for them.

 

The only wrong time to get a will and an EPA is when it’s too late. Take back the power to decide where your assets go when you die, and save yourself and your family much heartache. Get in touch with us about preparing your will and EPA today.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Get independent advice

In a recent case[1], the High Court found that a will administrator’s default in complying with a court order was so flagrant, it justified issuing an order for arrest of the administrator. How did this arise and, more importantly, how could it have been avoided? The will administrator was wearing two hats – one hat as a will administrator and the second hat as a beneficiary.

Dan Eckhout died in October 2017. Dan had named a South-African lawyer as executor in his will; that lawyer renounced the executorship. The court then appointed Dan’s third wife, Karen Eckhout, as administrator of Dan’s estate. Dan’s will left almost all of his estate to Karen. As well as Karen, Dan was survived by five adult children, one of whom was a stepchild. The sum of 120,000 South African rand (NZ$12,000) was left in trust for the three children of Dan’s second marriage. Michelle Connelly, the second child of Dan’s first marriage received nothing. She brought a claim under the Family Protection Act 1955 (FPA) for some provision from Dan’s estate. None of Dan’s other children brought claims.

 

Two hats are a no-no

Karen was wearing two hats in the proceedings. Wearing her first hat, Karen was a court-appointed administrator with duties to all the beneficiaries; she also had an obligation to assist the court by making information available about Dan’s finances. Wearing her second hat, Karen was the beneficiary who would lose out financially if Michelle’s claim succeeded.

An administrator must be neutral in a FPA claim. Karen was definitely not neutral.

 

Dan’s assets

It is fair to say that Karen had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude in providing the court, and Michelle, with information about Dan’s finances. It was not made clear how much Dan’s estate was worth.

A family trust, of which Karen was a trustee and both Karen and all of Dan’s children were beneficiaries, was wound up and the proceeds distributed to Karen only. Karen bought property in Hamilton, sold the New Zealand family home and moved to Perth to look after her sick parents.

Some of these factors were enough to cause Michelle’s lawyers to apply for a preservation order over the estate’s assets. The application was refused even though Karen did not appear at the hearing. The court, however, required Karen to file a statutory declaration providing precise information on the nature and whereabouts of Dan’s assets.

(It is interesting to note that the lawyers who initially represented Karen in each of her capacities were allowed to withdraw from the case, apparently over issues in relation to the payment of their invoices.)

Karen did not file the statutory declaration about Dan’s finances in the time allowed. Time was extended and the scheduled FPA hearing was delayed. Eventually, two days after the extended deadline, Karen’s new lawyers filed the statutory declaration. Karen declared she had spent about $1 million, but more than $600,000 remained to meet any judgment in Michelle’s favour.

 

Michelle’s award

The financial information Karen provided was still not precise, but the court had enough information to approximate the value of Dan’s estate at $1,939,000. Karen acknowledged that Dan breached his moral duty to Michelle. Michelle said the breach warranted an award of $850,000. Karen said that was unrealistic and suggested $228,000 would be adequate. The court awarded Michelle $350,000, which it calculated represented 18% of Dan’s estate, plus costs, making a total of $449,742.

 

Failure to pay leads to order for arrest

Karen did not pay Michelle the funds from her father’s estate. Charging orders were made over the funds Karen had earlier declared she still had and would use to pay Michelle. The Australian bank in which the funds were held could only pay A$4,828. Alarmingly, this was all that remained of the previously declared $600,000+.

Frustrated with Karen’s behaviour, Michelle’s lawyers applied for an order for Karen’s arrest; Karen did not appear at the hearing of this application. A few days later Karen emailed Michelle’s lawyer saying that she would make a substantial, but not full, payment within two weeks.

The court was unimpressed by Karen’s knowing failure to comply with its judgment for which absolutely no excuse, reasonable or otherwise, was offered. It issued an order for Karen’s arrest. The order ‘lay in court’ for a month, giving Karen some wiggle room to make the required payment. If Karen failed to pay within this period, the arrest order would be acted on.

In the absence of news of Karen’s arrest (and it would have been newsworthy), we presume that she finally paid Michelle.

 

Take care if you’re wearing two hats

This case serves as a warning to anyone who may be both an administrator and a beneficiary in an estate where a family protection claim is made; we can help if you’re in this situation. You will need different lawyers to act for you in each of your different capacities and to help you properly differentiate the roles you have.

Unwittingly wearing two hats is capable of bringing trouble to your door.

[1] Connelly v Eckhout [2022] NZHC 293.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Mandatory and default duties explained

When the Trusts Act 2019 came into force on 30 January 2021 the changes it brought were well publicised. However, not everyone is aware that the some of the provisions in this legislation also apply to wills and the administration of estates by executors. We outline executors’ mandatory and default duties as well as briefly discussing some interpretations of the latter.

The changes in trust law that came into effect on 30 January 2021 have been incorporated into estate administration law by s4B of the Administration Act 1969. It confirms that trustees’ mandatory and default duties set out in the Trusts Act also apply to executors or administrators of estates. This is an important set of protections for beneficiaries of estates who may have concerns about the way an executor is administering estate assets.

Mandatory duties for executors

Executors or administrators are now subject to mandatory duties; these cannot be modified or excluded by the terms of a will. These include the duties to:

  • Know the terms of the will
  • Act in accordance with the terms of the will
  • Act honestly and in good faith
  • Act for the benefit of the beneficiaries, and
  • Exercise powers under the will for a proper purpose.

All executors and administrators must be familiar with the terms of the will and follow it; they cannot do something contrary to the terms of the will unless all of the beneficiaries agree or the court has authorised the action.

They must act for the benefit of the beneficiaries. This can become difficult in some situations where executors or administrators have a close relationship with one beneficiary, and want to act in that beneficiary’s interests, rather than for the benefit of all beneficiaries.

Default duties

The default duties outlined in the Trusts Act 2019 also apply to executors and administrators of wills (unless the will expressly excludes them). Some of the most relevant default duties include the general duty of care, as well as duties to:

  • Invest prudently
  • Not to exercise powers for the executor or administrator’s own benefit
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Not to profit
  • Act for no reward, and to
  • Act unanimously.

Modifying the default duties

In some circumstances, these default duties are not always appropriate to a will-maker’s circumstances. For example, often a lawyer or other professional is appointed as executor of a will, and many wills provide that professional executors can charge their usual fees, modifying the duty to act for no reward. Most professionals will not take on an executorship without being paid!

In some cases, it may be desirable for executors or administrators to invest in an asset that doesn’t seem, by ordinary standards, to be a prudent investment. Such an investment may benefit the beneficiaries (or one beneficiary), such as owning a home for a beneficiary to live in; the investment may not lead to capital growth and may not earn much (or any) income but will fulfil a social need.

Investments such as the above may bring complaints from other beneficiaries who feel an executor is favouring one beneficiary’s interests over their own.

Another example is where a will-maker leaves their spouse or partner a right to live in their joint home, and that home (an asset of the estate) does not increase in value. Such an arrangement, however, may be permitted by the will.

It might also be desirable for an executor who is also a beneficiary, to purchase an estate property in a personal capacity. It means that the executor’s personal interest – to buy the property at the lowest price – conflict with the interests of the other beneficiaries, that is to have the property sold for the highest price. The will may allow such a purchase, although to help minimise arguments, it might require a registered valuation to guide the sale price.

Lawyers’ obligations

When you’re signing your will, we will explain all the modifications of, or exclusions to, the default duties that are included in the will. We will often include executor/administrator powers that will over-ride some of the default duties, such as those we’ve explained in the paragraphs on page two.

We will also take reasonable steps to ensure that you understand the meaning and effect of any clause in your new will that modifies, or excludes, those default duties.

This is an additional safeguard to ensure that when you sign your will you understand the implications of the terms of your will. It also means that if beneficiaries have any concerns about the terms of your will, such as in one of the situations we set out on page two, they should have confidence that you intended to word your will in that way and you understood the consequences.

If you have any concerns about your own will, or of a will of which you are acting as a trustee or administrator, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650