Wills, probate and intestacies in family history
What information can the researcher find in records of wills?
Wills can be an invaluable resource for family historians and often contain information difficult to access elsewhere, e.g. the surnames of daughters whose marriages occurred outside dates covered by BDM indexes. A copy of the death certificate may be included, along with details of the deceased’s assets, occupation, and the names and addresses of children and grandchildren.
Things to bear in mind when researching wills…
A deceased person’s estate is usually administered by the executor named in the will or appointed by the Supreme Court. Only approximately 5% -10% of all wills go to probate. In general probate is only sought when a bank or other institution requires formal proof of the executor’s right to administer the will. If there is no requirement for probate, no copy of the will needs to be kept. However, copies of individual wills may sometimes be found in private hands or amongst the records of individual solicitors or executors.
Public Curator’s files include wills for which the Public Curator was appointed executor (elections) as well as estates for which there was no will and which were administered by the Public Curator (orders). Thus, some wills that did not go to probate may be located with intestacies files.
Where are the records of Australian wills and intestacies located?
Listed below are some of the resources that can help you locate a will including some of the titles held by the State Library of Queensland.
For contact details of the relevant Australian Supreme Court registry/repository to which to apply for copies of a will, check online at Graham Jaunay's website How to locate AUS wills
Queensland State Archives
Index to Wills, 1857-1935
Compiled from original Supreme Court files from all districts this index includes some wills for people who died outside Queensland. It does not include Public Curator intestacy files.
Equity Index 1857-1895
An online index to the original Supreme Court Equity files that include surname and given name of all people connected with a case including deceased, interstate and overseas residents.
Indexes - Instruments of Renunciation 1915-1983
Instruments of Renunciation were lodged by executors who were no longer willing to administer a will. The records include details of the name, address and occupation of the deceased, date of death (and place if other than the deceased’s address), date of will, name and address of executor, relationship to the deceased, and date of renunciation.
Trustees Files Index 1889-1929
The files all relate to trusts set up under the terms of a will. They often cover several years with some files pre-dating the Trustee Act of 1889. Amongst other details the records may include information on the deceased's land ownership, children or other relatives, and employees.
For further information, consult Queensland State Archives Brief Guide 19 Will and Intestacy Records
This is an online index to Queensland Supreme and District Court files from as early as 1992 (Brisbane). The index is updated in real time. Files that commenced before the listed dates in the districts are included only if there has been some activity on the file since the index commencement date. Check the website’s Guide to searching for additional search options for the Brisbane area.
The State Library of Queensland holds:
Queensland intestacies, insolvencies and wills: index to notices in the Queensland Government Gazette 1859-1885 / edited by Mary Geiger and Rosemary Kopittke. [microfiche] (FICHE 929.3943 que)
Queensland intestacies, insolvencies and wills : index to notices in the Queensland Government Gazette 1886-1900 /edited by Jackie Buttress [microfiche] (FICHE 929.3943 que)
Queensland intestacies, insolvencies and wills 1859-1900 [CD-ROM] (QCFS 929.3943 2004)
Queensland intestacy returns index / compiled by Mary Geiger and Rosemary Kopittke. [microfiche] (FICHE 929.3943 GEI) (Years: 1896-1916)
Transmission of real estate by death / compiled by Merle D. Grinly and Margaret A. Belcher. [microfiche] (MFC 929.3943 1995-) (Years: 1878-1940). The name indexes include details of occupation of deceased, spouse, address and date of death.
New South Wales
State Records NSW hosts the following online indexes to deceased estate records:
Index to Deceased Estate Files, 1880-1923
This index is an ongoing project and is being progressively updated
See also State Records NSW
The State Library holds:
- Supreme Court of New South Wales probate index (1800-1982) [microfiche] (FICHE/B 346.05 new)
Northern Territory Supreme Court probates and index of administrations granted and sealed / Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory [microfiche] (MFC 929.39429 1991)
Probates and letters of administration granted by the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory or other courts of competent jurisdiction / comp. L. R. Cossons [microfiche] (MFC 929.39429 1994) (probate jurisdiction dockets 1992-1993)
Papua New Guinea
Some expatriates of Papua New Guinea / compiled by Joan Ainsworth [microfiche] (MFC 929.3953 1992). Part 3. Probate notices (1888-1975)
Supreme Court of South Australia testamentary index 1844-1995 [microfiche] (MFCB 346.9423052 1997) An index to probates and letters of administration
Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office Index to Wills and Letters of Administration 1824 to 1989
Copies of wills (AD960) and letters of administration (AD961) up to 1989 have been digitised and are now available to view online.
Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) holds will and administration files from 1841-2003. For information on how to access them go to the Wills and probate page.
PROV Index to Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925
Use this index to locate records. The records are gradually being digitised for viewing online.
For additional information on these records consult the following guides:
The State Library holds:
- Probate index Victoria: 1841-1992 [microfiche] MFCB 929.3945
Check this index to locate the probate number before using the wills and probate search option at the Public Record Office Victoria.
For information on probates granted after 01/01/2004 contact the Supreme Court of Victoria Probate Office
State Records Office of Western Australia provides information on Western Australian wills in their Information Sheet on Grants of Probate (wills) and Letters of Administration
The State Records Office holds two indexes to wills and letters of administration: 1832-1939 and 1900-1993. Files up to 1947 are available at State Records Office on microfilm for viewing. For any records less than 75 years old approval from the Supreme Court is needed before viewing. Application forms are available from the State Records Office.
What about wills in Britain and Ireland?
The State Library has numerous printed indexes to early wills, usually organised by area, such as:
Index to wills proved and administrations granted in the court of the Archdeacon of Berks, 1508 to 1652 / edited by W.P.W. Phillimore (G 929.34229 1893)
Index of the probate records of the Court of the Archdeacon of Berkshire [1653-1710] (G 929.34229 1975 )
Index to Irish wills, 1484-1858: records at the National Archives of Ireland [CD-ROM] (QCFS 929.39415 2003)
Check One Search online catalogue for further titles.
Under the link ‘Wills and death duties’ there are a number of indexes including an index to over 1,000,000 wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1384-1858. The index is searchable by given name, surname, date, occupation, place and/or keyword.
For information on accessing wills in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and India after 1858 see the National Archives’ Research Guides on Wills and probate records
Check ancestry.com (Library edition) database, available onsite only at the State Library, for further mention of wills and probates for Ireland and Britain.
What indexes does the Library hold to wills in New Zealand?
New Zealand probates / compiled by Marie Corser for the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. [microfiche] (MFC 929.393 1994)
The State Library holds vol. 1 only: an index to pre-1900 records
Wills at Land & Deeds Office, Wellington / compiled by June Springer [microfiche] (MFC 929.3931 1988).
A name index to wills dated c1833-1910.