Anyone over the age of 18, and anyone under 18 who is married or contemplating marriage, can make a will, provided they have testamentary capacity. Persons under the age of 18 who are unmarried can make a will with the approval of the Court; this can be advisable for young people who are earning large sums of money in modelling, in show business or arising out of their sports activities or from commercial endorsements.

The Court can also authorise a will to be made for a person lacking testamentary capacity under Part 2.2 of the Succession Act.

I have been asked to prepare a will by a person whose affairs, to my knowledge, are being managed under an enduring power of attorney. Should I contact the attorney to verify the capacity of the intending testator?

Many people who have testamentary capacity have granted an enduring power of attorney and that fact, of itself, should not cast doubt on the testamentary capacity of the intending testator. Depending upon the circumstances of the intending testator, such as whether he or she is in a nursing home, hospital etc, it would be wise to first check with the testator’s treating medical practitioner or hospital superintendent to ascertain whether the client is suffering from any form of dementia or has differing periods of lucidity. You should consult the Law Society guidelines here.

There is no public registry of wills in NSW, but a number of private providers offering will registration facilities are in operation. NSW Trustee & Guardian offers a secure storage service for wills, power of attorney and enduring guardianship documents called Will Safe. To find out whether NSW Trustee & Guardian holds the will of a deceased person, a member of the public can make a Deceased Will Enquiry.

The Registrar in Probate in the Supreme Court of NSW has a facility for lodgement of a will in the testator’s lifetime, although this is rarely used. In view of the ease of making a new will or codicil, will registration offers no certainty of proof of that document being the latest will.

From 2002 until 28 March 2014 the NSW Registry of Birth Deaths and Marriages (BDM) operated a Wills Register, however this service is no longer in operation.


One of the beneficiaries, usually a major beneficiary, can apply for Letters of Administration with the Will Annexed. When that application is granted the applicant is the Administrator of the Estate, with all the duties, obligations, rights and powers of an executor to carry out the wishes of the deceased as set out in his/her Will.

No, it is the executor of the last surviving executor who is automatically the executor in the first estate “by right of representation” as soon as he or she obtains a grant of Probate of the will of that last surviving executor. If the last surviving executor dies without a will, a further grant will be required to complete the administration of the first estate. The application to the Court will be for Letters of Administration cta. dbn. (cum testamento annexo, de bonis non administratis) (with the will annexed, in respect of the unadministered assets).

A limited grant of Administration can be granted to his/her guardian, to expire on the executor turning 18. At that time a grant can be obtained by the executor to complete the administration of the estate.

The duty of the executors, if they decide to accept their appointment, is to obtain probate and discharge their duty of care towards the beneficiaries. If the disagreement between executors is causing delay in the application for Probate, one of them, preferably with a solicitor’s advice, should give notice to the other that he/she intends to apply for Probate and call on the other executor to join in the application. If that executor fails to respond within the specified time, the first executor may proceed to apply for Probate on his/her own, with leave being reserved to the other executor to come in and prove the Will.

Either or both of the executors can apply to the Court under Section 63 of the Trustee Act for an opinion, advice or direction on any question regarding the management or administration of the estate property or regarding the interpretation of the Will. Provided no fraud, misrepresentation or wilful concealment is involved, an executor who acts in accordance with the opinion, advice or direction of the court is deemed to have discharged his/her responsibility as executor.

On rare occasions in the will a specific legacy is left for the executor to cover his or her executorial work. In that event no further order is needed for payment of the commission specified. Similarly if there is a legacy or other bequest to the executor contained in the will, there is a prima facie presumption that the legacy or bequest is intended to cover any entitlement to commission. Otherwise payment of commission may be authorised by the Court on application by the executor on the filing and passing of accounts in the estate. The payment of a commission may also be agreed by all the beneficiaries provided they are of age and not subject to any legal disability.

A Notice of Intention to Distribute the Estate (or Trust) should be advertised, in the prescribed form, giving at least thirty (30) days for claimants to notify the legal personal representative of their claims. Distribution should not take place until at least six months after the date of death or, if the legal personal representative has received notice of an intention to make a family provision claim which has not been commenced, at least 12 months after the date of death.

Probate and Letters of Administration

It depends on the nature of the assets. If the estate is small and the assets comprise say a motor vehicle, furniture and personal effects and a small bank, credit union or building society account, these can usually be dealt with – in the case of a will – by production to the bank or financial institution of the will, a death certificate, evidence of the executor’s identity, a completed withdrawal form and a completed indemnity in the form required by the bank or institution. In this case the executor is personally liable for the payment of the funeral expenses and debts of the deceased, up to the value of the estate, and is personally liable to the beneficiaries for payment of their entitlement.

Where there is no will, in the above circumstances, subject to production of the death certificate, a completed withdrawal form and a completed indemnity as above, and evidence of the identity of the next of kin, payment may be made to the next of kin who will then be liable for payment and distribution as above to the persons entitled.

One disadvantage to proceeding without a grant of probate or letters of administration is that the person dealing with assets is not able to obtain protection from liability for claims through the publication of statutory notices. An option to consider is to refer a small estate to the New South Wales Trustee and Guardian who has additional powers in dealing with small estates including the filing of an election to administer the estate which provides all the protections of a grant of probate or administration

The Probate Rules require an application for Probate to be made within six (6) months of the testator’s death. If the application is not made within that period an explanation of the reasons for delay will have to be given in the form of an Affidavit, either a separate Affidavit or included in the Affidavit of the Executor.


The Adoption Act 2000 provides (s.95) that an adopted child has the same rights in relation to the adoptive parent(s) as a natural child born to them; they are regarded in law as the parents of the adopted child, who is regarded in law as the child of the adoptive parents and as having ceased, on the making of the adoption order, to be the child of the birth parents. The intestacy provisions of the Succession Act 2006 provide that an adopted child is regarded as a child of the adoptive parent and for the purpose of distribution and the child’s biological relationships are to be ignored.

Administration of Estate

No, similarly if the solicitor is a co-executor with another person. Disclosure of the basis and estimated amount of costs will need to be disclosed to the beneficiaries affected, usually the residuary beneficiaries.

Under s. 85(1AA) of the Probate and Administration Act 1898, accounts must be verified and filed or verified, filed and passed where the executor or administrator is:

  • a creditor of the estate of the deceased,
  • the guardian of a minor who is a beneficiary of the estate of the deceased,
  • the executor or administrator of the estate where the whole, or a part which, in the opinion of the Court, is a substantial part, of the estate passes to one or more charities or public benevolent institutions,
  • a person, not being a beneficiary, or, in the opinion of the Court, a substantial beneficiary, of the estate, selected at random by the Court, or
  • a person otherwise required to do so by the Court.

Further, an executor or administrator may wish to file accounts, for example, in order to apply for commission.

As soon as practicable once the executor has made provision for the payment of all debts and liabilities of the deceased and the estate. As a general rule, if not paid within 12 months after the death of the deceased, the legacies bear interest from that time at 2% above the cash rate last published by the Reserve Bank of Australia before 1 January in the calendar year in which interest begins to accrue.

Not necessarily; if the monies are going to be received from the realisation of assets and paid out within a short period-a few months only-they can be paid to the credit of the estate in a solicitor’s trust account. However, if there is any significant delay in investment of monies not required to be distributed, those monies should be invested prudently by the executor as provided in section 14A of the Trustee Act 1925.

The costs of the legal work of and incidental to obtaining the grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, up to delivery of the grant by the court, are regulated as to the maximum amount chargeable. Costs in the administration of estates are deregulated. Practitioners must disclose to their clients, before commencing the retainer, their fees, including GST, for work in estates whether costs are regulated or deregulated. However, note that the disclosure requirements do not apply where the total of the legal costs, excluding disbursements, are not likely to exceed $750 or any amount prescribed by the regulations, whichever is higher.

The quantum of payment of commission can be agreed to by all of the beneficiaries if they are sui juris (have legal capacity), otherwise application should be made to the Court for an order for payment of commission at the time of filing and passing the estate accounts.

The amount which may be allowed to the executor seeking commission will depend on the degree for which he or she has been responsible for the discharge of the office of executor. The commission for private executors will be based on their “pains and trouble”, and will be such as is “just and reasonable”, having regard to their involvement in the administration. The normal range is between 1 and 1.5 per cent of the gross value of corpus and about 2 per cent on income. Excessive payments of commission or costs are liable to be set aside under s.86A of the Probate and Administration Act 1898.

There is a decision of the Supreme Court in Buckley and Others v Permanent Trustee Co Ltd (1990) 21 NSWLR 112 in which it was held that a trustee company may be liable to a reduction in its normal rate of commission if the co-executor had participated in discharging the executorial duties.

Power of Attorney

No. It must however be registered in the General Registry of Deeds before dealings affecting land, such as a Transfer, are signed.

Without the authority of the client a solicitor is not at liberty to provide the attorney with a copy of the will.

Under s22 of the Powers of Attorney Act a person who is named as a beneficiary of a specific item which is sold, mortgaged, charged or disposed of by a person as an Attorney has the same interest in any surplus money or other property of the Estate as if no sale, mortgage, charge, disposition or dealing had been made. It is therefore prudent to alert the Attorney if they intend to deal with the principal’s property the subject of a specific gift in the principal’s will.

In NSW the only person entitled as of right to view the will of a living incapable person is the NSW Trustee and Guardian. To avoid problems it is recommended that at the time of making the power of attorney specific instructions be obtained as to whether or not the solicitor may provide the attorney with a copy of the principal’s latest will.

Bob and Anne bring their years of specialist estate experience to the table when assisting you in the area of estate law. You’re in good hands.

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O’Brien Connors & Kennett Solicitors