Edmonds Judd

Estate Beneficiaries

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.
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