Probate is the process by which the Supreme Court in each state validates Wills and gives authority for distribution of an Estate. When Probate is granted, the Supreme Court issues a legal document called “Grant of Probate”. This confirms the Court’s decision that the Will is valid. This “Grant of Probate” must be issued before the executor can start distributing assets.
Applying for Probate used to involve filling out paper forms and submitting copies of identification and other documents to the Probate Registry (a division of the Supreme Court). But now, in many states of Australia, you can apply for Probate digitally.
The Probate Registry is the division of each Supreme Court that handles Probate applications, including the application itself and any other relevant documents. The Court maintains a register of all Grants of Probate and related matters granted by the Court.
Once Probate has been processed, the documents involved are made public, at which time members of the public can request access to Wills and other documents involved.
Note that Supreme Courts exist at state level, therefore Probate is handled according to the rules in each state. Probate is not handled at a federal level and there are no overarching Probate rules. The state the deceased person’s assets are in determines which state’s Supreme Court has authority to process Probate.
This post describes the different Probate Registries in each state of Australia. To find out how to apply for Probate in your state, please refer to our post on “Do I Need an Estate Plan”.
South Australia’s Probate Registry was the first to go digital, with registration and lodgements available via the CourtSA online portal. Since November 2018, all probate lodgements in SA must be done electronically – there is no paper option anymore.
Usually, applying for Probate is a complex process and often needs the help of an estate planning attorney. But with CourtSA’s online lodgement process, you are guided through a series of forms designed to streamline the process, making it a lot easier for everyday people to apply for Probate. This self-serve option is easiest when the Will is straightforward, but the increased access means more people can save a trip to the lawyer’s office. Regardless, it is highly recommended you view all the information on the Courts SA website prior to applying.
In NSW, you can apply for Probate via the NSW Online Registry. You will need to register an online account before you can apply for Probate, but anyone can search the probate noticesor any records published online from the 21st January 2013 onwards.
In QLD, the steps to apply for Probate aren’t quite as straightforward as in other states.
The Queensland Supreme Court does offer some limited options online concerning Wills and Probate. But Queensland is the only state in Australia where Probate is not required in every case, so the Court doesn’t always have the related documents stored. You can use the eCourts online search facility to confirm whether they have the documents before requesting a copy.
For a complete overview of the process, visit the QLD Courts website.
In Victoria, you still need to submit your application in person to the Court, and if you want copies of Wills and probate-related documents, you need to request them in person and pay a fee. The Victorian Probate Register does, however, offer an online search to confirm whether the documents are available before requesting them (the fee is payable on request, whether the documents are available or not). For a full rundown of the procedure, visit the Supreme Court of Victoria website.
To apply for probate in the NT, you still need to submit your application in person to the Court. It is recommended you contact the probate officer for all the documents you will need and the fee payable.
To apply for probate in WA, you can either submit your application in person to the Court or apply online using the Probate Wizard. The Supreme Court of Western Australia website has information on which documents you need.