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.
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:
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.
You 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 challenges 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 surviving spouse, or the surviving civil union or de facto partner children parent’s brothers and sisters grandparents uncles and aunts, or failing them their children to determine how the deceased's estate distributed.
The Administration Act 1969 sets out the rules of intestacy, state who will receive the property. Generally the property goes to family members.
If the deceased had a husband or wife or a civil union or de facto partner, but no surviving parents or direct descendants, the spouse or partner will get all of the estate.
If there is a spouse or partner and also direct descendants, the spouse or partner will receive all the personal chattels, the first $121,500 of the estate and a one-third share of the remaining property. The other two thirds go to the direct descendants.
If there is a spouse or partner, no direct descendants but surviving parents, the spouse or partner receives all the personal chattels, the first $121,500 of the estate and two thirds of the remaining property, with one third going to the surviving parents.
If there are direct descendants but no husband or wife or civil union or de facto partner, the estate goes to the direct descendants.
If the deceased did not have a surviving spouse or partner nor any direct descendants, the deceased's parents will receive the whole estate.
If there are no parents, the deceased's brothers and sisters or their direct descendants receive the estate.
If there are no brothers and sisters, nor any of their descendants, the estate is shared between grandparents or, if none, aunts and uncles.
If none of these parties exist, the Crown will receive the property.
De facto partners were included in the above provisions on 1 February 2002, but only where the deceased died on or after that date.
Civil union partners were included in the above provisions on 26 April 2005.