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Archives In Brief 29 - Deceased estate files, 1880-1958

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Provides a brief overview of the main sources held by State Records that relate to the administration of the collection of death duties - Deceased estate files.

The background to death duties

The New South Wales government adopted the British practice of imposing death duties as a form of direct taxation intermittently from 1865 until 1874. The Stamp Duties Act of 1880, however, was the beginning of the consistent imposition of death duties until their abolition in 1981.

Under the Stamp Duties Act of 1880 and its replacement, the Stamp Duties Act of 1920, no probates (wills) or letters of administration could be granted until the duty was paid, or security was given for the same. The Act also extended to the estates of people who died intestate, including those handled by the Supreme Court Curator of Intestate Estates. For further information about records of the Curator of Intestate Estates researchers should consult Archives in Brief 53.

Who was liable for death duties?

Not everyone had to pay death duties. Exemptions could be granted and, if duty was charged, the amount would vary according to the assets involved and the relationship between the deceased and the persons entitled to the estate. For example, under the 1920 Act, widows and children under the age of 21 only had to pay half of the duty in estates under £5000.

Duty was also charged on those living outside New South Wales as long as they owned sufficient property or possessions in the state. For example, death duties were assessed on Rudyard Kipling's estate, as he possessed shares that were registered in New South Wales.

What are deceased estate files?

The Stamp Duties Office created a deceased estate file for every individual who died leaving property or other assets ('estates'), which were subject to death duties. The files contain the papers, correspondence and other documentation relating to the assessment of death duty by the Stamp Duties Office.

What information can be found in a deceased estate file?

The amount of information in a file can vary considerably. Some files contain an extensive and detailed examination of the deceased person's estate and possessions. Others files may consist of just the cover pages and the amount of duty that had to be paid.

Deceased estate files can include:

  • a summary cover sheet. This includes the name of the deceased, place of residence, testate or intestate, date of death and age, marital status, administrator's name and relationship to the deceased, the final balance of the estate, a list of assets and their value at the date of death, and the full particulars of any debts that need to be extracted from the estate.
  • calculations for statements of assessable duty, schedules and adjustment sheets,
  • correspondence, including letters from solicitors regarding estates, companies or individuals giving statements about shares or other assets of the deceased, bank and salary statements and occasionally letters from beneficiaries,
  • certificates of Valuation of Property which indicate the exact location of land owned by the deceased and what improvements have been made,
  • Statutory Declarations from the executor of the will and from people involved with purchases of land or assets for the deceased,
  • a copy of the will,
  • schedules of furniture and possessions,
  • transcripts from relevant courts, for example, the Supreme Court in Equity,
  • references to Acts that provide precedents for actions, and
  • balance sheets of businesses.

What period do the deceased estate files cover?

Deceased estate files date from the Stamp Duties Act of 1880 and continue until 1958. It is important to remember that these are dates of administration not dates of death. For example, there may not be a file for a person who died in November 1958 because their estate took several months to administer. Similarly, there may be a file for someone who died at the end of 1879 if the estate was administered in the next year.

Where can I access deceased estate files?

The deceased estate files are described in Archives Investigator. Select Advanced Search - Record Series, No. 13340.

The indexes to the files are on microfilm and are available in the reading room. Full lists of the files are also available in the reading room. The files are held at the Western Sydney Records Centre.

Index to Deceased Estate files

State Records is indexing the Deceased Estates files, 1880-1923. The index is an ongoing project and entries are being progressively added. Indexes to Deceased Estate files are available on microfilm in the reading room. Indexes 1923-1958 are also available on the www.ancestry.com.au website.

Further information

Researchers should also consult Archives in Brief 84 which provided information about probate packets and Archives in Brief 53 which provides information about the Curator of Intestate Estates. Other records relating to the collection of death duties may be identified in Archives Investigator. Archives in Brief 119 provides step by step instructions for researching deceased estate files and probate packets.

Researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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