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When a person dies they may own assets and property such as a house, land, investments, bank accounts, car, household items (for example furniture, paintings, books). The deceased person’s assets and property are known as their ‘estate’.
A will records a person’s instructions about how their assets and property are to be distributed after their death. Usually a will names a person or organisation (such as the Public Trust or a Trustee Company) to carry out their instructions after their death. This person or organisation is known as the ‘executor’ of the will.
However, making a will is not compulsory, and a person may not have made a will before their death. This is known as a person dying ‘intestate’.
Sometimes a court order to administer the deceased person’s estate may be needed before their property and assets can be distributed and disposed of. This depends on the type of property involved and the assets left by the deceased person.
If the deceased person did not own any real estate and they leave a small amount of assets (money, shares, retirement funds) then you may not need to apply to the High Court. First, you should contact the banks, insurance companies and any other organisations where the assets are held, to identify the size of the assets and discuss what is needed to distribute them.
In most other cases, if the deceased person’s estate includes land or a house (real estate) then you'll need to apply to the High Court to administer the deceased person’s estate. This may be an application for probate or letters of administration depending on whether the deceased person left a will or not.
If you are an executor of a will but unsure what to do, or a family member or friend who simply has questions about the process, you may want to talk to a lawyer or Public Trust. Please note that lawyers and Public Trust charge fees for these services.
You should talk with a lawyer if you want specific information about other court applications relating to estate matters such as contesting a will, distributing an estate or proving the validity of a will.
Please note court staff are not permitted to provide, and cannot provide, any legal advice.
An application for probate is required from the person or organisation (‘the executor’) named in the will.
The requirements for making an application are found in legislation such as:
Court forms must be set out in a certain way which is fixed (‘prescribed’) by legislation. The content and details to be included in the form will be specific to the particular circumstances of an application or case, and may need specialist legal advice to draft it. Probate forms are not ‘fill in the blank’ forms, and for this reason many executors ask a lawyer to prepare and file an application for probate.
The forms for an application for probate are the PR1AA, PR1 and PR7. The forms can be found in Schedule 1 of the High Court Rules(external link)
Please note these forms may not cover everything that is needed to get a court order.
If the deceased person did not leave a will an application for Letters of Administration on Intestacy may be needed. Legislation strictly governs who may apply, and the application process can be complicated. You should talk with a lawyer if a deceased person did not leave a will.
Fees are fixed (‘prescribed’) by regulation. The fee for probate and letters of administration is $200. You can apply to waive, postpone or refund fees. An application is considered by a registrar or deputy registrar of the court against criteria set out in the fee regulations.
For any questions relating to an application for probate, letters of administration, a search request or fees, please contact the Probate Unit or any of the registrars noted below.
Wellington High Court
2 Molesworth Street
PO Box 1091
or use our DX number: SX10083
Phone: 04 914 3600
Fax: 04 914 3603
Registrar John Earles
Registrar Jane Penney
Registrar Anne Murdoch Moar
Registrar Jared Doe
Contact details as for Probate Unit
Registrar Tony Mortimer
Senior Deputy Registrar Tanusha Iyengar
Senior Deputy Registrar Gordon Sulliman
Senior Deputy Registrar Peter Gayaman
Phone: 09 916 9600
Fax: 09 916 9779 or 09 916 9611
Registrar Sharon Graham
Registrar Keppel Smith
Phone: 0800 268 787
Fax: 03 962 4302
The High Court only receives a copy of a will when an application of probate is filed. A will becomes a public record when an application for probate is filed with the High Court, which means anyone may look at a will or ask for a copy.
Please note that the majority of High Courts only hold probate records for a period of up to 25 years, after which time the files are sent to Archives New Zealand.
The High Court can do an electronic search of probate records back to May 2004. A manual search is needed for probate records before May 2004.
The fee to search probate (court) records and to look at the file is $30. This fee includes getting a copy of the will or any document on the file.
A will is usually held by the deceased person’s lawyer before an application for probate is filed with the High Court.
If you know who the deceased person’s lawyer is you can ask to look at the will. Please note such a request may be refused. A request will be dealt with in line with client confidentiality rules which may mean you are not entitled to information about the beneficiaries, executors or other details contained in the will.
If you believe that you are a beneficiary of a will and are unable to get information about it, you should talk with a lawyer.
The majority of High Courts only hold probate records for a period of up to 25 years. After that time, the files are sent to Archives New Zealand.
You might be able to access probate records held by Archives New Zealand through Archway - the Archives archival management system and online finding tool. Archway can identify if Archives New Zealand holds a probate record and how to access it.
Some of the early probate records held by Archives New Zealand – most over 50 years old - have been digitised and may be available to view and print from the FamilySearch website
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