2023 marks a special anniversary for Public Trust, 150 years since it was established as the world’s first public trustee services organisation.
The Crown entity is now well-known for its provision of estate planning services, including wills and enduring powers of attorney (EPAs), but what is less known is that it was set up to protect some of our society’s most vulnerable people.
Late nineteenth-century New Zealand society was haphazard; settlers lived dangerously and moved frequently around the country and beyond. Women and children were particularly vulnerable if widowed or orphaned, as appointed estate trustees had a habit of disappearing.
On a walk from Parliament along Lambton Quay in 1870, Christchurch MP Edward Stevens and the Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel discussed the sad case of the trust fund theft from a widow and her family. Stevens suggested the idea of a government-owned public trustee service providing certainty and integrity to vulnerable New Zealanders’ estates.
The idea for the government to protect the assets of vulnerable people was a progressive solution to the problems of colonial society.
For the next two years Vogel, who was to become New Zealand’s eighth premier in 1873, repeatedly pushed bills through Parliament, aimed at establishing such a service. He was finally successful, and the Public Trust Office Act 1872 created a government-owned and managed public trustee service – the first in the world when it opened on 1 January 1873.
Public Trust’s duty to advocate for New Zealanders extended beyond protecting estates – it was one of the first government departments to hire women in the 1890s, to provide Māori and Pacific scholarships in the 1990s, and to fight for the recognition of mental illness in the 2000s.
“During our 150-year anniversary we will be taking time to reflect on our proud legacy of advocacy for all New Zealanders.
“Our team’s role as current stewards of our organisation is to set Public Trust up for a future in which we can continue the important mahi of protecting New Zealanders’ legacies for the next 150 years,” Glenys Talivai, Chief Executive.
Today, 150 years on and now an autonomous, self-funding Crown-owned entity, Public Trust lives a proud legacy every day of being an advocate for all New Zealanders.
About Public Trust
Public Trust is a self-funded autonomous Crown Entity employing over 400 people across our corporate offices and network of customer centres.
Our purpose is to empower all New Zealanders to build and protect their legacies. We do this through our work as New Zealand’s largest provider of estate planning and management services. We are also one of the country’s largest charitable trust administrators and advisers, helping more than 420 charities to set up trusts and distribute funds back to our communities.
Our investments team manages around $1.2bn of funds, primarily for charities, estate beneficiaries and students (through our Fee Protect service). Public Trust’s Corporate Trustee Services offer some of Australasia’s best-known institutions a full range of trustee services and we supervise a number of KiwiSaver and superannuation scheme providers.
Published by Public Trust – March 2023