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Archives In Brief 84 - Probate packets

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Probate documents include the last will and testament, and any codicils (additions or revocations to the will). A grant of probate is the authority given by the Supreme Court NSW to the executor(s) to deal with a deceased person's estate.

Useful definitions

The following definitions will help you when using probate related records.

Executor(s) are the people named in a will to administer the estate of the deceased. Administering the estate generally involves:
* determining the assets belonging to the estate;
* paying any debts (including income tax); and
* distributing the estate to those entitled to it.
The estate is the real estate property and/or personal property of the deceased.
A grant of probate is the authority given by the Supreme Court NSW to the executor(s) to deal with a deceased person's estate. Probate documents certify that a will is valid.
Letters of administration
If there is no valid will or the executor(s) are unable to carry out their function, the Supreme Court NSW issues letters of administration authorising a person(s) to act as executor.
A person who dies leaving a valid will has died testate. They are often referred to as the testator.
A person who dies without leaving a valid will dies intestate. Without a valid will there is no named executor and the Supreme Court NSW issues a letter of administration.

Regulatory background

Court of Civil Jurisdiction 1787-1814

The Court of Civil Jurisdictionwas empowered to grant probate on wills and issue letters of administration for the personal estates of intestates dying within the NSW settlement. The Court of Civil Jurisdiction was dissolved in 1814.

Supreme Court of Civil Judicature 1814-23

After the Court of Civil Jurisdiction was dissolved three new courts were established; the Governor's Court, the Lieutenant Governor's Court and the Supreme Court of Civil Judicature. The Supreme Court of Civil Judicature had responsibility for probate.

Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court 1823-90

The Supreme Court of Civil Judicature was abolished in 1823 and the Supreme Court of NSW was established in its place. Probate was placed within the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Court.

Probate Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court 1890-1970

The Probate Act of 1890 established the Probate Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to deal with probate.

Probate Division of the Supreme Court 1970 to date

The Supreme Court Act of 1970 altered the name of the Probate Jurisdiction to the Probate Division. The business of the Probate Division is divided into contentious and non-contentious proceedings. Contentious proceedings are conducted by the Probate Judge, other Judges of the Equity Division, Masters and the Registrar. Non-contentious proceedings are conducted by the Registrar and four Deputy Registrars.

What's in a Probate packet?

The information in a Probate packet can vary considerably. Examples of documents that may be in a packet include:

  • the last will and testament, and any codicils (additions or revocations to the will). The will in the Probate packet is considered by the Court to be the only legal document.
  • letters of administration

Accompanying documents may also include:

  • inventory of assets of the estate
  • affidavits of death and copy of the death certificate
  • oath of office of the executor
  • affidavits sworn by the executor
  • executor's petition for probate
  • affidavits of attesting witnesses
  • notices of motion for administration
  • any application or lodgement documents including notice of motion for probate and address for service
  • orders relating to the filing of accounts, or
  • renunciation of probate by executor.

Where Probate packets are held

State Records holds probate packets from 1817-1976 and part of 1989. Check with Reading Room staff or on our website - Latest News and the Now and Then newsletter - for updates of recent transfers.

Probate packets, 1817-1976 and 1989 (part)

Probate packets, NRS 13660, for the period 1817 to 1976 (to packet no. Series 4-828673) and part of 1989 (100001/1989-105663/1989) are held by State Records. Address:-

State Records
Western Sydney Records Centre
143 O'Connell Street
Kingswood NSW 2747

Probate packets after 1976 (excluding part of 1989)

The Supreme Court NSW holds Probate packets created after 1976 (excluding the part of 1989 already transferred to State Records). To access Probate packets held by the Supreme Court contact:

Supreme Court of NSW
Probate Division
PO Box 3 Sydney NSW 2001
Telephone: 1300 679 272

Finding and accessing Probate packets at State Records

A proportion of State archives are fragile and for this reason we may withhold access to the original archive until it has received attention from our Conservation staff. Archives will be checked on a case by case basis as they are requested either in the Reading Room or for a copy order. If an archive requires conservation treatment there will be a delay in the archive being issued and/or copied. Conservation treatments can take up to six months to be completed.
You will be notified if there is going to be a delay in an archive being issued and/or copied and if there will be additional copying charges for special format copying.

Archives Investigator

All Series 1, 2, 3 and Series 4 Probate packets held at State Records NSW, except for probates 1890-c.1914 and c.1919-1928 (Series 4-1 to Series 4-67546 and Series 4-99143 to Series 4-152150) have been added to Archives Investigator. WWI probate packets, 1914-1918 (Series 4-67547-Series 4-99142) were listed in Archives Investigator in April 2015. For more information see Tips on Using Archives Investigator - Probate packets.

Probate packets 1890-c.1914 and c.1919-1928 (Series 4-1 to Series 4-67546  and Series 4-99143 to Series 4-152150) are held at State Records but are not listed in Archives Investigator. You will need to check the microfiche index for this period.


Probate index, 1800-1985

The Supreme Court NSW Probate Division has published an index to probates granted in NSW between 1800 and 1985. The Probate index shows Probate packet number, series number, name of deceased, residence, date of death and instrument.

The index is available on microfiche in the reading room and in many public libraries. A guide to the microfiche is available in the reading room. Abbreviations used in the index are explained in the guide.

Indexes, 1986+

For indexes from 1986 onwards researchers should contact the Probate Division of the Supreme Court of NSW.

Steps to view a Probate packet at State Records NSW

To find and view a Probate packet created before 1976 or in 1989 (part) follow the steps in the table below.

1 Obtain the correct Probate packet number and series number by:
a) checking Archives Investigator or,
Tip: Finding Probate packets in Archives Investigator: Do a simple search using the first name and surname of the person you are searching for and the word death, for example 'David Davies death'. Choose All words from the Simple search options.
b) checking the Probate Index.
2 Check retrieval times with reading room staff.
Tip: Probate packets are retrieved at set times during the day. Ensure that your request is ready to go before the next set time.
3 Check the Probate packet item lists in our reading room and obtain the box/container number.
Tip: Make sure the series number from the index matches the series number in item lists.
4 Complete a request form for the Probate packet at our Western Sydney Records Centre Reading Room. Alternatively you can order the packet before your visit by completing and submitting the preorder form on our website. You will need to include the:
  • Name of the deceased
  • Probate packet number
  • Series number
  • Box/container number
Tip: A copy of a correctly completed form is shown in the probate item lists folders in the reading room.
5 When the packet has been retrieved you can view it in our Western Sydney Records Centre Reading Room.
Tip: You will need to have a readers' ticket to view original records. For information on obtaining a readers ticket see Archives in Brief 13.

Copy Service

If you have the Probate packet details and cannot visit the reading room at the Western Sydney Records Centre, you can order a copy of the packet via Archives Investigator or the Probate Packet copy service.


Probate packets are open to public access 5 years from the date of last grant of probate.

Related records

Index to early Probate records

This index covers records that are not part of the main probate series. The Index to early Probate records is available online to search. The index includes records from series NRS 2665, 13725 and 13502, which are described in more detail below:

NRS 2665, Court of Civil Jurisdiction:  Miscellaneous probate papers, 1790-1814
Reel 391
These appear to be probate papers created by the Court of Civil Jurisdiction prior to 1814.

NRS 13725, Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction, Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction: Register of wills proved and letters of administration granted, 1817-24
Reel 2658
Copies of wills proved under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court with the relevant letters of administration or probate orders.

NRS 13502, Supreme Court, Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction: Case papers relating to the granting of probates and letters of administration, 1816-75
The case papers include oaths, petitions, caveats, affidavits, notices to creditors, lists of accounts current, letters of administration, copies of wills, and other miscellaneous papers. The papers are not complete and information varies from case to case.
For further information see Archives Investigator.

Supreme Court, Probate Division; Register of Probate. Indexes to Probate and Administration, c. 1880-c.1960 [11/2676-2709]
These indexes are useful when the microfiche Probate Index is difficult to read.

NRS 13661, Supreme Court, Probate Division: Will Books, 1800-1984
Reels 1856, 4043-4384
This series consists of volumes containing copies of original wills. Between about 1800 and 1924 the copies of the wills were handwritten, and from 1924 the copies were typed. Reels 1856 and 4043-4383 provide a copy of the wills from Series 1 (from No. 1700), Series 2 and 3 and up to Series 4 No. 397200 (November 1952). These microfilms are available in the reading room.
Will books, c. 1978-1984 (nos. 844726-975525) require conservation work before being issued in the reading room. Conservation work may not be completed on the same day.

NRS 13538, Curator of Intestate Estates: Case papers, 1821-1913
The Curator of Intestate Estates was responsible for the collection, management and administration of intestate estates. For further information consult Archives in Brief 53: Curator of Intestate Estates Case papers, and Archives Investigator.

NRS 13340, Stamp Duties Office: Deceased estate files, 1880-1958
Deceased estate files were created for individuals who died leaving property or other assets and on whose estate death duties had to be paid. They may contain similar documentation to the Probate packets. The probate number may also be written on the cover sheet of the deceased estate file. For further information see Archives in Brief 29: Deceased estates files 1880-1958, and Archives Investigator.

Other records may be identified in Archives Investigator. See Archives in Brief 119 which provides step by step instructions for researching probate packets and deceased estate files. See also Archives in Brief 29, which provides information about Deceased estate files, 1880-1958; and Archives in Brief 53, which provides information about Curator of Intestate Estates' Case papers.

Sources in The National Archives (United Kingdom)

Prior 1858 wills in the UK were proved in one of two ecclesiastical courts. These were the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) and the Prerogative Court of York (PCY). Importantly for NSW researchers, if an owner of property in England or Wales died overseas, such as soldiers or sailors, the will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). All PCC wills are indexed and available online at The National Archives digital image delivery. Many relate to military personnel, but there are entries for people such as William Redfern and John Oxley who also appear in the NSW probate records.

The Society of Australian Genealogists (02) 9247 3953 holds the UK's National Probate Index, 1858-1943 on microfiche.

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