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What happens when a loved one dies

I am lucky.  I haven’t had to deal with the death of any of my immediate family members.  But I have recently been privileged to assist the family of one of my long term clients to manage the administration of her estate.

It has been an eye opening experience for me about how administrative the process is, how time consuming and how much Anti Money Laundering protocols have to be provided (each time an asset has to be dealt with – KiwiSaver, house, dealing with the lawyer, all four of us have had to provide proof of ID and residential address.  And all four of us had to sign the statutory declaration for the withdrawal from KiwiSaver).

Two years ago, a colleague of ours David Boyle wrote an article for Stuff about dealing with his mother’s estate, and I thought this was a good time to write an article about what needs to be done.  We would love your insights and tips if you have any additional experiences.

Notifying everyone

This process will differ if the death was anticipated than if it was sudden.  If someone has been ill for some time, it is likely that the family will have a good idea of their friends and the people to be contacted.  But for people with a wide range of friends, this can be quite a task, all while they are managing their own emotions.

A tasteful post on social media can be a method for communicating – but ideally for those people that the person had regular contact with a phone call or in person visit (depending on the relationship and location) is probably a better idea.

It is important to note that you will have to decide what to do with the social media profile of the person in the future.  Some families leave the profile up so that people can remember and may post something every anniversary, others feel that it is more appropriate to get the profile closed down.

Death Certificate

Not much can happen before a certified death certificate is available.  This can take some time if the death was unexpected. 

Some things that may come as a surprise:

1.    Bank accounts being locked – when the bank receives formal notification of the death – but there are still things that need to be paid for, so work out a plan for funding these things.  Note that a credit card debt doesn't vanish on debt  (but Student Loans do), but have to be repaid from the assets in the estate.  But the family members are not responsible for the debt unless they signed up for the card at the same time.)

2.    Funeral needs to be paid for quickly – if the person is older and has planned, they may have a pre-paid funeral, which will minimise the need to access cash.  If not, it might be that family may have to get money together (and be reimbursed).  If there is not much money, funds may be available from WINZ.

3.    Some things still have to be paid for – for example house and contents  and vehicle insurance, power bill (if you are putting the house on the market), credit card bills.  It would be useful to have access to some money to keep these going.

4.    You don’t have to have a funeral.  Funerals are generally for the loved ones of the person, and can either be traditional and religious, or have a funeral celebrant or be a casual gathering.  You can have a private family memorial or you may decide to have a bigger Memorial Service at a later stage.  If the person had a life in several different locations, you may decide to have a funeral in one location and a memorial service in another. [We did this for my mother in law who lived in Australia when she died, and then some time later a memorial service in Marton where she spent a large part of her life].

5.    You don’t have to have a funeral director. You can carry out a person’s after-death care in your own home and without any special equipment.  But think about the added stress that this will bring before making this decision.  For more information -

6.    If you do have a funeral… you will have to find several photos for the programme, and work out what music you want, who you would like to speak and do readings and what you want to do for food and drinks for the attendees.

There are no rules about what you can do at a service or a celebration.  You can make the event a reflection of the persons life and personality, but remember, the money for it has to come from somewhere.

Once the initial notifications and memorials are over, the administration kicks in.  Usually this will involve a formal discussion about the will.  Ideally, the will be available to family members so that they can follow any instructions about what is to be done with the body, so people will be familiar with the contents of the will.  See the other blog articles about making a will and what can go wrong with a will.

As well as the administration required with AML and documentation, the crucial next step is to get ‘probate’ for the estate. 


If you are working with a lawyer they will apply to the court for probate, but you could do this yourself (however, there is a warning that these forms aren’t ‘fill in the blanks’ they have to be set out in a prescribed way.)

If the estate has a total value of less than $15,000 probate is not required.

The time that this takes will depend on the backlog of the courts for processing and any questions that arise.  For more information see this page

When you have probate, the assets can be realised and eventually paid out to the beneficiaries.  If you are working with a lawyer, the funds will generally be paid into the lawyers trust account prior to distribution.

Things (or personal chattels)

If these are listed in the will or as an attachment to the will, you will need to check with the lawyer how these are to be distributed and when they can be distributed or sold.  If they are not listed, it is probable that you can meet with the other loved ones and work out what is to be done with the items.

If the person had notice that they weren’t going to live for much longer, they may have identified people that they wish to have the items, or may have made a list.

Unfortunately, more often than not, there will end up being items that need to be distributed to second hand shops or even destroyed.

Here is a link to David Boyle’s article for more information:


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