Family History – Wills and Probate Records

Probate files contain documents required for a deceased estate to be administered. Included are the value of the estate and wills which name beneficiaries. A will or probate file will contain the date of a person’s death and so lead to a newspaper death notice and a death certificate. Wills and probates are public documents and are available for viewing.

Probate files

With some wills there is no probate file and whether a will went to probate seems to have depended on the size of the estate. Probate can be granted when there was an estate but no will, even where the estate is very small. Wills which went to probate were lodged with the Supreme Court nearest to the deceased’s home.

Search for probate files held at Archives New Zealand on Collections Search. The date given is the date of probate which is not always the year of a person’s death as probate can be granted some time after a date of death. Not all probate material is available.

Archives New Zealand, Christchurch holds probate and letters of administration records for Canterbury and Westland, holdings of which are listed in their Personal Identity Reference Guide. Archives New Zealand’s Christchurch office has indexes to probate records on paper or in computer format from the 1850s-1980s. Check with the relevant office of Archives New Zealand to see what other indexes have been created.

Probates not held by Archives New Zealand may be with Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) for those wills which involved land.

New Zealand Probates, Vol. 1: an index to pre-1900 records
The name, date and place of death are given in this resource. The wills are listed at either Archives New Zealand or remaining at the local court house. The Archives New Zealand holdings are listed in their Personal Identity Reference Guide.

Public Trust

Public Trust wills for the whole of New Zealand from 1872 (when the Public Trust was founded) to 1950 were kept, along with any additional information, in the Wellington High Court. After 1950 Public Trust wills were dealt with in individual high courts so from 1950 Canterbury, West Coast and Oamaru wills are filed in the normal probate records at Archives New Zealand, Christchurch. See Collections Search.

Deceased Estates

Intestate estates notified in the New Zealand Gazette, 1843-1869
Deceased estates notified in the New Zealand Gazette, 1866-1900
The Intestate estates cover those people who did not leave a will but were still listed in the New Zealand Gazette.

Public Trust deceased estates, Canterbury, 1901-1958
By the 20th century the Public Trustee persuaded more people with limited assets to make wills. Earlier those who left wills would have been prosperous. Where the Public Trust was named in the will, or where the courts appointed the Public Trust to administer intestate estates, documents can be obtained from Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

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