PUBLIC TRUST OFFICE
In the early years of settlement in New Zealand, colonists who desired to make provision for their children, or to settle property by will or in any other way, often experienced difficulty in finding friends or relatives willing and qualified to undertake the duties of trustee. As most settlers had left in England the relatives they would normally have selected for trustees, they were thus forced to depend upon persons upon whom they had no special claim. Under prevailing conditions it often happened that a trustee had become insolvent, or had left the colony or moved to another district before his appointment became effective. To overcome these difficulties and to provide a trustee who would be permanent, solvent, and qualified to act, the Hon. E. C. J. Stevens induced Vogel in 1870 to introduce a Bill to provide for a Public Trust Office. The novel proposal for a public official to act as a trustee was approved by the House of Representatives, but rejected by the Legislative Council because some members felt that the Government should not undertake trustee work, that there would be legal problems associated with the work of a trustee who was a Crown employee, and that private trustees would transfer their responsibilities to the Public Trust Office. Two years later, however, Vogel introduced a redrafted Bill which became law on 25 October 1872. Jonas Woodward was appointed Public Trustee. By 1880 his staff consisted of a chief clerk and a cadet; today (31 March 1965), the Public Trustee employs 830 officers, and controls 51 branch offices and 64 part-time offices and agencies.
The first Public Trustee's main task was to administer the estates of deceased persons who had named him as executor of their wills. Under an amending Act of 1873 he was given power to administer the estates of persons who died intestate, to act as trustee of settlements, and also to undertake the management of properties on behalf of living persons. In addition, the Court was empowered to appoint the Public Trustee committee of the estates of mental patients. The Office now has important duties, in certain circumstances, in respect of the estates of, or moneys due, to minors, and the aged and infirm. It administers unclaimed and enemy property, and discharges mortgages when the mortgagee is dead, overseas, or cannot be found.
The Public Trust Office holds almost 200,000 wills for living testators who have appointed the Public Trustee their executor, prepares more than 10,000 wills annually, and redrafts more than 7,000 wills a year for existing clients. It administers 19,000 estates and funds amounting to more than £80,000,000, with an annual intake of assets in excess of £15,000,000, representing more than 4,500 new estates and funds yearly.
by Raymond Joseph Polaschek, M.COM., B.A., D.P.A., Commissioner of Transport, Wellington.