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What To Do If There Is No Will?

Administering an estate can be a complex and time consuming process - especially if you’re the one in charge. It involves everything from finding the Will to paying off debts, and even organising someone’s funeral. In this blog Safewill explains what estate administration involves, and what important documents you will need to get started.

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What is administering an estate?

When someone dies all of their possessions including cash, investments and personal belongings become a part of their ‘estate’. Estate administration refers to the process which starts immediately after someone’s death involving gathering and handling any assets and debts in the estate.

How do you administer an estate?

The role you take in administering a deceased estate will depend on whether or not a Will was in place, and what your relationship was to the deceased. Some people may need to play a more active role, while others will be bystanders. The most important job is that of the Executor, as that is the person responsible for overseeing the entire process from start to finish.

1. If there is no Will

If the person has died intestate, a relative must apply for a Letters of Administration with the Supreme Court. The process is relatively similar to submitting a grant of Probate, but there are typically additional forms and documents to be submitted for this process, which vary across each state and territory. If the application is approved, this person will become responsible for nominating Beneficiaries and overseeing the distribution of the Estate.

2. If there is a Will - locate it

If a Will was created it was likely stored in a safe place perhaps among personal documents, in a filing cabinet, in a safe deposit box, or with the deceased’s solicitor. The document will spell out who was named as Executor. This person will take responsibility for the rest of the process.

3. Carry out burial arrangements

There may be specific instructions about funeral decisions or burial arrangements within the Will or supporting documents. If the deceased did not organise a prepaid funeral or a funeral bond you should keep the invoice for the service which can be paid off by using the deceased estate.

4. Obtain a death certificate

Funeral directors often facilitate this process by registering the person’s death and applying for a death certificate on your behalf. This is usually done within 7 days of burial or cremation. If a funeral does not take place, you may need to contact the relevant government authority and lodge an application yourself.

5. Identify assets and liabilities

The Executor will then need to create an inventory of the Will-maker’s assets and any debts they have. This includes any savings, share holdings, real estate, vehicles, superannuation savings and life insurance policies. This inventory will form an important part of the set of documents required to apply for probate.

6. Apply for a grant of probate

The Executor will then need to apply for a grant of probate with the Supreme Court. They will need to present a death certificate, the Will, any codicils and the inventory of the estate. Once the application has been lodged, there is then a 14 day notification period when people can contest the Will, followed by another 5-10 working days for the court to go through the documents

7. Pay off debts and distribute assets

Once approved, the Executor can then begin administering the estate. They will need to settle any debts before they can begin distributing assets to beneficiaries.

How long does it take to administer a Will?

The time frame will vary depending on the complexity of the Will but it can typically take between 6-12 months to administer an estate. This includes the time taken to gather documents, lodge a grant of probate and the subsequent notification period as well as time for courts to verify the documents.

What is the difference between probate and estate administration?

Probate is the process of confirming a Will is valid. It requires seeking approval from the Supreme court to be able to access a deceased estate. Probate makes up a part of administering an estate.

Estate administration refers to the process of handling someone’s legal and tax affairs after they have died. It involves managing all assets and liabilities, as well as other end-of-life logistics including funeral and burial arrangements, and securing a death certificate. Probate makes up an important part of Estate administration.


Estate administration involves a lot of different steps and can seem overwhelming when you are just getting started. The process begins from the moment of someone’s death and ends when their Estate has been distributed to its Beneficiaries.

If no valid Will exists, it is still possible to administer a deceased estate. An eligible family member will first need to apply for a Letters of Administration with the Supreme Court - who will appoint an Administrator to oversee the process. If a Will is present, the Executor is responsible for administering the deceased estate.

Their responsibilities include identifying and collecting important documents, authorising funeral and burial arrangements, obtaining a death certificate and dealing with the courts to organise the deceased’s assets and liabilities.

Administering an Estate can be an exhausting process for anyone who is playing an active role. So getting your affairs together before you die can help to minimise the burden on your family during a difficult time. Safewill can help you get ahead with our easy-to-use Will writing service. Get started today.

Last updated 22nd February 2022
Louise Ayling
Copywriter & Content Developer
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Safewill is an online service providing streamlined forms and information. Safewill is not a law firm or a substitute for a lawyer’s advice about complex estate planning issues.