When someone passes away, their executor will usually need to apply for probate in the state where they have a valid Will. Once they receive a grant of probate, the records typically becomes public. However, accessing public probate records and Wills varies across Australia.
New South Wales Probate Records
Probate records are public in New South Wales. The public records are referred to as Probate Packets and they are organised into five series by the year and date that probate was granted, not by the date of death. For example, series 5 is 1985 and onward. Probate packets contain the last Will, codicils and letters of administration. They can also include other documents such as the inventory of assets, affidavits and other documents prepared by the executor.
It's handy to know that not everyone who dies in New South Wales will necessarily have a probate packet. This is because a grant of probate isn't always necessary - it depends on the type, size and value of the assets located in New South Wales.
Probate packets held by the Supreme Court of NSW are not yet digitised. To access them, you need to locate the Probate packet in their online catalogue, place a pre-order for your visit to their Reading room and finally purchase a copy of the packet.
Read more: How to contest a will after probate.
Victoria Public Probate Records
According to the Public Record Office of Victoria, roughly 95% of probates administered after January 2017 are still with the Supreme Court of Victoria. So, if you are looking for a particular probate file, you might have to search in two places, depending on the date that probate was granted.
Each record includes a valid Will, a probate file or administration file and other important documents relating to the estate such as proof of death and affidavits. There are several reasons you may not be able to find a probate record which include:
- The process of granting probate or letters of administration has not yet been completed
- The estate size did not require probate or letters of administration
- The deceased did not own any assets in Victoria
The PROV is in the process of digitising Wills and probate records. At the moment, only records from 1841 to 1925 can be viewed online. Records from 1926 to 2016 can be ordered to view and photograph at the North Melbourne reading room. There are no fees for this service. Alternatively, for a fee, you can request a copy be emailed or posted to you.
To search the records of the Supreme Court, the process is a little different. First you'll need to check whether a probate record exists. If the status of an application shows 'Application granted', it can be viewed by emailing the Supreme Court's probate office a completed 'request to search' form along with a credit card authorisation form.
Queensland Probate Records
In Queensland, probate records are held by Queensland Reports - the authorised reports of the Supreme Court of Queensland. You can only access the Will of someone who passed away if the executor or next of kin has applied for probate or letters of administration, which isn't a legal requirement in every deceased estate. Also, Queensland Reports won’t guarantee that the Will is valid or up to date.
If you are looking for a probate file submitted after 1 January 2012, you can search all public notices on the Queensland Law Reporter website. If you are looking for a probate file published in 2011 or earlier, you should search the records held by the Supreme Court of Queensland Library.
Read more: Guide to estate planning in Queensland
Western Australia Probate Records
In Western Australia, the Supreme Court has a Probate Records Index where you can search public probate records. The set of index cards is arranged alphabetically and is located in the State Archives in Perth.
However, the cards only cover the years between 1832 - 1989. And, there is no legislation that requires an executor to share the Will of the deceased before probate.
Before searching this collection, it is helpful to know the name of the person, any family members who could be listed as heirs and the approximate year of their death.
The government in WA recommends that executors share the Will with those who have ‘sufficient interest’ and to follow the NSW guidelines.
South Australia Public Probate Records
In South Australia, probate records and Wills are public documents available at the Supreme Court. There are thee ways to access them, depending on the date of the grant.
- You can access grants issued after 1980 online by going to CourtSA.
- You can access grants issued from 1917 – 1979 by emailing the deceased's name and date of death to [email protected].
- Grants issued from 1844 – 1916, have been digitised and can be accessed via the FamilySearch website.
If you need to only obtain a copy of a Will, you can do this for a fee from the Probate Registry at the Supreme Court.
Northern Territory Probate and Will Records
In the Northern Territory, after the Supreme Court grants probate, the record usually becomes public and includes a copy of the Will. Once made public, they are available to access and copy if necessary. If the probate record or letter of administration record is more than 30 years old, you can access them at the Northern Territory Archives Service.
If the records is less than 30 years old, you can pay a fee of $31.00 to the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory Registry to access the document.
Tasmania Probate Records
In Tasmania, you can access public probate records through the Probate Registry. Regardless of whether you’re actually able to find the document, you need to pay a search fee. If the records were finalised after 1995, you need to submit a search request to the Supreme Court Probate Registry.
If you’re looking for a probate record from 1825 to 1995, you need to contact the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office.
Probate records in Australia
Accessing public probate records in Australia will depend on the year that the grant of probate was received and under what Supreme Court. There are several reasons why someone might want to access probate records. These can include:
- To read a Will
- Know who’s the executor of the estate
- Understand how the estate was distributed to the beneficiaries
- For research and copying
To learn more about how someone can read a Will before the grant of probate, check out this guide on the role of attorney under enduring power of attorney in Australia.