How to access South Australian Wills & Estate Papers

Probate records can often fill in gaps in civil registration records. They may also provide other material such as:
 • information about previously unknown family members.
 • suggest the socio-economic circumstances of the family at a given time in history.
They will also provide death details that may not be available in civil registration records due to privacy laws (ie deaths after 1970, a failure to register a death or deaths predating civil registration.
Unfortunately only about 20 to 30% of deceased people have a Will presented for a grant by their Executors in the probate court which in South Australia is the Supreme Court!
Those that died without a Will and had assets (Intestate) will have Administrators appointed by the court with Letters of Administration (Admons) and they will be required to distribute the estate according to law rather than the wishes of the deceased.court
Many people have no need for a Grant of Probate even if they had a Will at the time of death because:
 • the deceased had no or minimal assets.
 • the assets were in joint tenancy. (therefore always look for Wills of surviving spouses)
 • assets were held in a family trust and therefore not part of the deceased's estate.
 • third party holders of assets may be prepared to release them without a sighting a grant.

The Probate Registry is located at the Supreme Court Probate Registry, 1 Gouger Street Adelaide SA and you enter through the security terminal for Courts 6-12. The entrance is set back through a small walled garden.

The Registry hold a complete index of all Wills and Admons granted in South Australia from the start of the court system. The index to 1995 has been filmed and may be available on fiche in your local family history society or regional library. The index does not distinguish between Wills and Admons. You will not be allow to view the Will before purchase.

To successfully obtain a Will and the Grant or Admons, you need to search the indexes and complete form at the Registry or write with a SSAE to ask if the Registry holds a particular Will and they will reply accordingly with a form. Before attempting to search the indexes you need to have the full formal name of the deceased and a good idea of when they died. In the case of common names the second point become more significant as does some idea of where they died.
 • If the entry located has PT instead of a reference number you need to apply to the
    Public Trustee at 25 Franklin Street Adelaide.
 • If no entry was located then no Grant of Probate was made in the South Australian
 • If you locate several likely entries then you need to undertake further research or
    elect to buy all the records.

Once you have the reference details, complete the form and hand over the counter with your payment. All Wills cost the same amount regardless of their length. The material will be ready for collection three working days later or for a fee will be posted.

  Terminology worth knowing:
  • Probate: a grant to allow an executor to
    disperse a deceased estate.
  • Executor: appointed to administer a Will
  • Administrator: appointed to wind up an
    estate according to law where no Will is
  • Letters of Administration: a licence to
    allow an administrator to disperse a
    deceased estate.
  • Testate: to die with a valid Will.
  • Intestate: to die without a vaild Will.
  • Partial Intestacy: to die with a partially
    flawed Will.
  • Tenants in Common: deceased's share
    forms part of their estate.
  • Joint Tenants: deceased share passes to
    the survivor & is not part of their estate.

Estate papers in South Australia are held by the Executors or Administrators and do not form part of the above package. If the estate was wound up by the Public Trustee (since 1881) then you may be allowed to access them if they are over 75 years old. The Public Trustee Index is available at SAGHS.

Some legal firms may have deposited their estate papers with the State Library of SA although there is no requirement to keep Estate papers for more than seven years.

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