Apply for probate & get a copy of a will

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Overview of estates & wills

When a person dies they may own assets and property such as a house, land, investments, bank accounts, car, household items (for example furniture, paintings, books). The deceased person’s assets and property are known as their ‘estate’.

A will records a person’s instructions about how their assets and property are to be distributed after their death. Usually a will names a person or organisation (such as the Public Trust or a Trustee Company) to carry out their instructions after their death. This person or organisation is known as the ‘executor’ of the will.

However, making a will is not compulsory, and a person may not have made a will before their death. This is known as a person dying ‘intestate’.

Sometimes a court order to administer the deceased person’s estate may be needed before their property and assets can be distributed and disposed of. This depends on the type of property involved and the assets left by the deceased person.

Find out more about estates and wills on the Community Law website (external link)

Check whether a court order is required to dispose of the estate

If the deceased person did not own any real estate and they leave a small amount of assets (money, shares, retirement funds) then you may not need to apply to the High Court. First, you should contact the banks, insurance companies and any other organisations where the assets are held, to identify the size of the assets and discuss what is needed to distribute them.

In most other cases, if the deceased person’s estate includes land or a house (real estate) then you'll need to apply to the High Court to administer the deceased person’s estate. This may be an application for probate or letters of administration depending on whether the deceased person left a will or not.

Getting legal advice

If you are an executor of a will but unsure what to do, or a family member or friend who simply has questions about the process, you may want to talk to a lawyer or Public Trust. Please note that lawyers and Public Trust charge fees for these services.

Search for a lawyer by area of practice on the New Zealand Law Society website (external link)

Find out more about Public Trust's Executor Assist service (external link)

You should talk with a lawyer if you want specific information about other court applications relating to estate matters such as contesting a will, distributing an estate or proving the validity of a will.

Please note court staff are not permitted to provide, and cannot provide, any legal advice.

Make an application to administer an estate

Application for probate where the deceased person has left a will

An application for probate is required from the person or organisation (‘the executor’) named in the will.

The requirements for making an application are found in legislation such as:

Court forms must be set out in a certain way which is fixed (‘prescribed’) by legislation. The content and details to be included in the form will be specific to the particular circumstances of an application or case, and may need specialist legal advice to draft it. Probate forms are not ‘fill in the blank’ forms, and for this reason many executors ask a lawyer to prepare and file an application for probate.

The forms for an application for probate are the G32, PR1 and PR7. The forms can be found in Schedule 1 of the High Court Rules (external link)

Please note these forms may not cover everything that is needed to get a court order.

Applications where the deceased person did not leave a will

If the deceased person did not leave a will an application for Letters of Administration on Intestacy may be needed. Legislation strictly governs who may apply, and the application process can be complicated. You should talk with a lawyer if a deceased person did not leave a will. 

Filing fee

Fees are fixed (‘prescribed’) by regulation. The fee for probate and letters of administration is $200. You can apply to waive, postpone or refund fees. An application is considered by a registrar or deputy registrar of the court against criteria set out in the fee regulations.

Find out more about getting help to pay court fees

Contact list

For any questions relating to an application for probate, letters of administration, a search request or fees, please contact the Probate Unit or any of the registrars noted below.

Probate Unit

Street address:
Wellington High Court
2 Molesworth Street
Wellington 6011

Postal address:
Wellington High Court
PO Box 1091
Wellington 6140

or use our DX number: SX10083

Phone: 04 914 3600

Fax: 04 914 3603

Email: probate@justice.govt.nz

Registrars
Wellington High Court

Registrar John Earles
Registrar Jane Penney
Registrar Anne Murdoch Moar

Contact details as for Probate Unit

Auckland High Court

Registrar Tony Mortimer
Senior Deputy Registrar Heather Bowles
Senior Deputy Registrar Tanusha Iyengar

Phone: 09 916 9600
Fax: 09 916 9779 or 09 916 9611

Christchurch High Court

Registrar Sharon Graham

Phone: 0800 268 787
Fax: 03 962 4302
Email: christchurchhc@justice.govt.nz

Get a copy of a will from the High Court

The High Court only receives a copy of a will when an application of probate is filed. A will becomes a public record when an application for probate is filed with the High Court, which means anyone may look at a will or ask for a copy.

Please note that the majority of High Courts only hold probate records for a period of up to 25 years, after which time the files are sent to Archives New Zealand.

The High Court can do an electronic search of probate records back to May 2004. A manual search is needed for probate records before May 2004.

Steps to locating a will that has been filed in the High Court

  1. Identify the High Court where the application for probate was filed. Up until 31 May 2013 this was the High Court closest to where the deceased person lived at the time of their death. From 4 June 2013 all applications for probate have been filed at the Wellington High Court.
    Find High Court locations
  2. Once the High Court has been identified, make a written request to search probate records to the Registrar of the High Court where the will is held. Include the following information:
    1. the full name of the deceased person
    2. the date of the deceased person’s death and/or the date probate was granted
    3. the town or area the deceased person was living in at the time of their death.
  3. A request will be actioned by the High Court when it is received. There may be delays if the information provided is incomplete, or it is a complex request.

Search fee

The fee to search probate (court) records and to look at the file is $30. This fee includes getting a copy of the will or any document on the file.

Get a copy of a will from the deceased person’s lawyer

A will is usually held by the deceased person’s lawyer before an application for probate is filed with the High Court.  

If you know who the deceased person’s lawyer is you can ask to look at the will. Please note such a request may be refused. A request will be dealt with in line with client confidentiality rules which may mean you are not entitled to information about the beneficiaries, executors or other details contained in the will.

If you believe that you are a beneficiary of a will and are unable to get information about it, you should talk with a lawyer.

Tips for finding the lawyer that holds a deceased person’s will

  • Try to remember the name of the lawyer or trust company that the deceased person may have consulted, or ask family or friends if they know this information.
  • If the deceased person owned some real estate, there may be papers from the lawyer in the deceased person’s records. Otherwise you can do a title search of the property to get access to the transfer document. The transfer document usually records the name of the lawyer or law firm that acted for the deceased when they bought the property. You could then contact the lawyer or firm to see if they hold the will.
  • If you know the name of the deceased person’s lawyer but not their contact details, the register of practising lawyers can be searched on the New Zealand Law Society website (external link)
  • If the lawyer is not currently practising, the relevant branch of the New Zealand Law Society may be able to advise the successor lawyer or law firm. The Law Society branches also publish regular newsletters for the lawyers practising in their area, so you could put an advertisement in the area in which the deceased person lived before their death. Branch contact details are on the New Zealand Law Society website (external link)
  • You could advertise in LawTalk to see if a lawyer holds a will for the deceased person. LawTalk is the official magazine of the New Zealand Law Society and every practising lawyer in New Zealand is sent a copy.
    Find out more about LawTalk (external link)

Other ways to get a copy of a will

The majority of High Courts only hold probate records for a period of up to 25 years. After that time, the files are sent to Archives New Zealand.

Older wills

You might be able to access probate records held by Archives New Zealand through Archway - the Archives archival management system and online finding tool. Archway can identify if Archives New Zealand holds a probate record and how to access it.

Find out more about Archway (external link)

Wills over 50 years old may be online

Some of the early probate records held by Archives New Zealand – most over 50 years old - have been digitised and may be available to view and print from the FamilySearch website

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