If a person dies without making a will, he or she is said to have died "intestate". Since there is no will, the deceased person's property is distributed according to rules laid down in the ADMINISTRATION ACT 1969 (see below, "How is the deceased's estate distributed?").
In order for someone to have authority to distribute the deceased's estate, an application must be made to the court for it to grant "letters of administration" for the estate, which means that the court appoints a person, usually a close surviving relative, as the "administrator" of the estate. (By contrast, if there is a will the executor appointed under it applies to the High Court for it to grant "probate" of the will: see How to apply for probate of a will.)
The administrator is the personal representative of the deceased and has authority to deal with and distribute the deceased's estate in accordance with the rules in the ADMINISTRATION ACT 1969. The administrator fills the same role as the executor under a will (see How to be the executor of a will).
You will need to apply in writing to the High Court. Except when someone is contesting the issue, the application is made "ex parte", which means it's not necessary to give notice of the application to anyone else.
The application must use the general format shown in Form 20 of the High Court Rules (which is in the Second Schedule to the JUDICATURE ACT 1908). Usually applications are made through a lawyer; if you do use a lawyer, he or she must certify that the application is correct.
The application must be filed in the High Court registry nearest to where the deceased was living when he or she died or, if the deceased wasn't living in New Zealand, at the registry nearest to where the deceased's property is.
If someone is challenging you being granted letters of administration (for instance, claiming that a valid will exists), the process is more complicated and will involve a trial in the High Court. You must apply "in solemn form", which means you file a statement of claim under the standard procedure for civil proceedings in the High Court.
You name as defendants the people who are contesting the issue and the people who, if you are unsuccessful, may be entitled to a grant of probate (if they are claiming a valid will exists) or letters of administration.
The defendants then have the opportunity to file a statement of defence and, if they wish to, a counterclaim.
There is an order of priority to aid the court in determining who to appoint as administrator -
The ADMINISTRATION ACT 1969 sets out the rules of intestacy, which state who will receive the property. Generally the property goes to family members, as follows -
De facto partners were included in the above provisions on 1 February 2002, but only where the deceased died on or after that date. Further, some de facto partners are not included - see below.
Civil union partners were included in the above provisions on 26 April 2005.
Since 1 February 2002, a de facto partner (including same-sex partners) has had the same rights to receive the deceased's property under the rules of intestacy as has a legal spouse, provided
If the relationship was for less than three years, the de facto partner has no right to receive under the intestacy rules, unless the court is satisfied:
If the deceased dies leaving both -
then those two people share equally in the property that would have gone to a spouse or partner had the deceased left only a spouse or civil union partner or only a de facto partner. The same applies if the deceased leaves two or more de facto partners.
A surviving spouse or civil union or de facto partner is entitled to choose between either -
For the division of property, see How to: The division of property when a marriage, civil union or de facto relationship ends.