Edmonds Judd

Executor of 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.


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Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650