During a time of loss, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many significant decisions and legal obligations you might encounter.
Locating the Will of someone who has passed away is an important step that will help you to act on their behalf and carry out their final wishes. To help you in this process, we’ve put together a step-by-step list of how to find a Will.
Why is the Will important?
A Will – also known as someone’s Last Will and Testament – is a legal document that outlines the final wishes of someone who has passed away. If they have made a Will, the deceased is referred to as the Testator. Upon the Testator’s death, the Executor who is nominated in the Will distributes the assets of the deceased in line with the terms of the Will.
If a Grant of Probate is needed for an Estate, the Executor needs the original Will, as this must be submitted to the court as part of the application. In rare cases, a signed copy may be sufficient.
Where there is no Will, or the Executor is unable to carry out their duties, a Grant of Letters of Administration may be needed instead of Probate. Rather than an Executor, the person carrying out these duties is called an Administrator. In some states, applying for Letters of Administration requires the applicant to state what searches have been made to find the Will.
7 Steps to help you locate a Will
Step 1: Search personal possessions
To find out if a Will exists, start by searching your loved one's things, particularly desk drawers where they might keep papers. Documents that show your loved one communicating with lawyers might lead you to more information about the Will and other important documents.
Step 2: Examine emails
Your loved one’s emails might contain evidence of a Will. Looking through emails can be helpful to find written communications with lawyers or an emailed copy of the Will. In some cases, you may be able to access content or emails from the deceased person’s email account by sending a request to their email provider.
Step 3: Check banks and secure storage
As important documents are usually stored in secure places, it’s helpful to check storage locations. This can include a family safe or a safety deposit box/safe custody arrangement with the deceased’s bank.
To gain access to a safety deposit box, the Executor or Administrator might need to provide:
Step 4: Contact any lawyers
Your loved one might have a current or past lawyer if they were involved in any legal matters, like family law proceedings or a property matter. Contacting their lawyer could help with finding the Will as most law firms offer storage of Wills and other important legal documents.
To access documents stored with a law firm, the Executor or Administrator might need to provide:
If you’re unable to find a specific law firm, we recommend broadening your search and contacting all law firms in the area where your loved one lived to see if they hold any documents for the deceased.
Step 5: Contact accountant/financial advisor
Accountants and financial advisors also commonly provide storage for original Wills, so if your loved one used any professional financial services, we recommend taking a similar approach as outlined in Step 4.
Even if the accountant or financial advisor doesn’t hold the Will, they may be able to give you details of the deceased’s assets, which can be useful if you need to apply for Probate.
Step 6: Contact the Trustee organisation in your state
Next, it’s highly recommended to contact the relevant Trustee organisation in your state to see if they hold a Will for the deceased. In NSW, this is one of the required searches when applying for Letters of Administration.
To access the registries of the Trustee organisation, the Executor or Administrator may need to provide:
For New South Wales: NSW Trustee and Guardian
The NSW Trustee and Guardian is a major Wills provider and has a database where many Wills are stored. Before searching the Wills database, you will need the following information:
To search the online database, visit the NSW Trustee and Guardian website here.
For Victoria: State Trustees
The Victorian Will and Powers of Attorney Registry service is run by State Trustees, which stores information provided by the Testator about where they keep their Will. You will need a copy of the death certificate and proof of identification when contacting State Trustees to access the registry.
For Queensland: The Public Trustee of Queensland
The Public Trustee of Queensland stores over one million Wills in the Public Trustee’s Will database. You will need to contact the Public Trustee of Queensland directly to access this service.
The contact details for the Public Trustee of Queensland can be found here.
For South Australia: The Public Trustee
The Public Trustee in South Australia stores Wills where the Public Trustee has been named as Executor.
The contact details for the Public Trustee can be found here.
The Law Society of South Australia may also hold a private Will if it has been voluntarily placed in their own registry. Law firms in South Australia have access to the Wills Register, which identifies the law firm that created or holds the Will. If the Will is not on the register, your lawyer can place a notice in the Law Society’s weekly newsletter to inform other lawyers in South Australia that you are searching for the Will.
For Western Australia: The Public Trustee
The Public Trustee in Western Australia may hold the Will in their Western Australian Will Bank. To access a copy or the original Will, you will need to provide details about the deceased and yourself, including:
You will then need to complete a form request:
For Tasmania: The Public Trustee
The Public Trustee in Tasmania provides a safe custody service where Wills may be stored. You will need to directly contact the Public Trustee to request the Will and provide proof of your identity. Following validation, the Public Trustee will deliver the stored documents to a service branch near you.
The relevant contact details for the Public Trustee in Tasmania can be found here.
For the Northern Territory: The Public Trustee
The Public Trustee in the Northern Territory provides Will storage services to Northern Territory residents. You will need to contact the Public Trustee directly to access this service.
The contact details for the Public Trustee in the Northern Territory can be found here.
For the Australian Capital Territory: The Public Trustee and Guardian
The Public Trustee and Guardian (PTG) in the ACT only stores Wills where PTG have been nominated as a primary or substitute Executor. If PTG is not named as Executor in the Will, or they chose to renounce the role, the Will may be given to the other Executor(s) named in the Will.
The relevant contact details for PTG can be found here.
Wills may also have been deposited with the Registrar at the Supreme Court and may be taken out with a payment. To access this service, a link to the ACT Courts Registry and Administration contact information is provided here.
Step 7: The Australian Death Notification Service
The Australian Death Notification Service (ADNS) can be used to conduct searches with organisations the deceased might have used. In case they hold assets or information about the deceased, the ADNS can notify these organisations of the death and give them your contact details.
For example, the ADNS automatically contacts several banks for you. These banks can then search to see if they hold any documents in their safe custody (such as a Will) for the deceased.
To access this service, you will need to go to the Australian Death Notification Service Website and provide the death certificate, as well as details of the deceased. After the details are validated by the service, the notifier can select and inform relevant institutions and services.
Still can’t find the Will?
If you have tried these steps without finding any results, it’s possible the deceased did not have a Will. If there is no Will, the closest living next of kin might need to apply for Letters of Administration to handle the deceased’s assets.
Safewill Legal can help
Our team at Safewill Legal can offer you practical and specialised advice about your appointment as Executor or Administrator.
Safewill Legal is Australia’s most affordable fixed-fee Probate and Letters of Administration service. We charge one fixed fee to obtain a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, and will help you with all administration matters, regardless of the estate’s size.