Get a copy of a will
When a person dies they may leave effects such as a house, land, bank accounts and investments. A will is a record of a person's intentions to distribute these effects upon their death. Before these assets may be collected and distributed, the will must have been granted probate.
New Zealand does not have a national register of wills. However, if you are certain that a will has been granted probate, the search for a will can be quite straightforward through the correct High Court.
If you are unsure if a will has been probated, which might be the case if the there was no real estate involved or if the residual estate was small, you will need to contact the solicitor who acted for the estate.
Obtaining a will through a High Court
Who may see the will?
Once a will has been granted probate, the will becomes a public record, therefore it may be viewed by anyone.
Probate is the certificate granted by a court to confirm that the will of a deceased person has been proved and registered in the court and that a right to administer their effects has been granted to the executor proving the will.
How do I get a copy?
First of all you need to identify the High Court where probate was granted. Up until 31 May 2013 this was the High Court closest to where the deceased was residing at the time of their death. From 4 June 2013 all probate applications will be filed in the registry of the High Court at Wellington. List of courts' addresses.
Once the court has been identified, you will need to write to the Registrar at that court stating:
- the full name of the deceased
- the date of their death and / or the date probate was granted
- the area that they were living in at the time of their death
Please note that the majority of courts only hold probate records for a period of up to 25 years, after which time the files are sent to Archives New Zealand. An electronic search for probate records can be completed back to May 2004. Prior to that time, manual records were kept, and contact will need to be made directly to the Court to check if the probate file is held.
How much will it cost?
From 1 July 2013 the fee to search the court records to find if a will has been probated, and then to look a the file, is $30.00. This fee includes obtaining a copy of any document on the file.
How long will it take?
A request for a copy of a will is actioned upon receipt of the request provided that the search is straightforward and all information required to carry out the search is provided.
Obtaining a will through a lawyer
- Try to recall the name of a lawyer or trust company that the deceased may have used or consulted over a will, or ask family or friends if they know of any.
- If the deceased owned some real estate, there may be papers from the lawyer in the deceased's records. Otherwise a title search of the property may be undertaken to provide 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 purchased the property. The lawyer or firm could then be contacted to see if they hold the will.
- The Register of Lawyers currently practising can be searched on the New Zealand Law Society website www.lawsociety.org.nz
- If the lawyer is not currently practising, the relevant New Zealand Law Society branch may be able to assist with the successor law firm. Branch contact details are on the Society's website.
Your other options
You may want to advertise in LawTalk to see if any solicitor holds a will for the deceased. Law Talk is the official publication of the New Zealand Law Society and every practising lawyer in New Zealand is sent a copy. For prices and publication information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the the Society's website www.lawsociety.org.nz
In addition, there are 13 New Zealand Law Society branches, some of which publish regular newsletters for the lawyers practising in their branch area. Advertisements may also be placed in the newsletter of the branch in the area which the deceased lived. Branch contact details are available on the Society's website.
I've found the lawyer, may I see the will?
Finding the lawyer who holds the will does not automatically entitle you to information about the beneficiaries, executors or other details held in the will. Such inquiries will be dealt with on an individual basis and particulars will be revealed in accordance with client confidentiality rules.
If you believe that you might be a beneficiary of a will and are unable to obtain information, you are advised to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Once a will has been granted probate, the will becomes a public record and may be viewed by anyone.