Who can see the will of a deceased person, and get a copy?

Public Trustees

The NSW Trustee and Guardian store or hold wills.  If you believe the deceased made their will with them you can make an enquiry.  Use their Find a Will online form.  Similarly contact the public trustee in the  state or territory where the deceased lived.

The term issue – what does it mean?

The term “issue” above has a legal meaning.  It means all the person’s descendants  including their children, see infographic.  So the children or grandchildren of a deceased could ask to see the will.  For more on issue in wills go here.

children, issue, adopted children, my issue, grandchildren, descendants, see the will of a deceased, inheritance, wills, deceased,
Spouses/partners are not issue and so not shown.

Can adopted children see the will of a deceased parent

Children who are legally adopted should be entitled to view the will of a deceased adoptive parent.  This is because of provisions under adoption legislation  together with provisions on children from the respective state/territory Interpretation Acts. The effect of these laws means that an adopted child has the same legal rights as a natural child.

What a will includes – what are you entitled to see?

This might seem obvious.  However in New South Wales for example the meaning of a “will” is not restricted to being the “last will”.  The law also provides that a “will” can include part of a will or a copy of a will.  It can include a document that seems to be a will or can include a cancelled (revoked) earlier will.  So this means that anything fitting into these descriptions could be asked for. 

The law is not uniform on who can see the will

With the law on seeing a will not being uniform you need to check carefully what the provisions say in your state or territory.

Can you have a copy?

Yes.  In New South Wales the legislation provides that if an eligible person under the law asks for a copy it must be provided.  Further they are entitled to charge a reasonable fee for making the copies.  This may not be the case in every state and territory. 

In South Australia the Law Handbook by the Services Commission has useful information here on how and when you can get a copy of a will.

Costs?

The cost of copying is at the expense of the person requesting.  Such costs should be reasonable.  This is an entitlement as of right under the legislation in those states/territory where it applies.

When contacting someone you believe holds the will of a deceased person to enquire about viewing it you will likely have to provide proof of who you are and your relationship or connection to that deceased person.  This is to establish that you are entitled under the law. 

State and territory legislation

NSW: “Persons entitled to inspect will of deceased person”, s 54 of the Succession Act 2006

Queensland: “Persons entitled to inspect a will or to obtain a copy of a will”, s 33Z of the Succession Act 1981

Victoria:  “Who may see a will?”, s 50 of the Wills Act 1997

Tasmania:  “Persons entitled to see will”, s 63 of the Wills Act 2008

Northern Territory:  “Persons who are entitled to see will”, s 54 of the Wills Act 2000.

South Australia:  “Office copy of whole or part of will, or part of will, or of probate or administration, may be obtained”.  Section 30 of the Administration and Probate Act 1919 (SA)

Western Australia:  “Court may allow access to will”, s 45 of the Wills Act 1970 (WA).

ACT:  “People entitled to inspect will of deceased person”, s 126 of the Administration and Probate Act 1929 (ACT).

 

1.  Peter Butt, Ed, Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary, 3rd ed.

 

B Stead

BHS Legal

Updated 9 June 2023

Important notice: This article is intended for general interest and information only. It contains general information and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. It is not legal advice nor should it be used as such. Always consult a legal practitioner for specialist legal advice specific to your needs and circumstances and rely upon that. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy at the time of writing applicable laws may change.

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