How to Obtain a Copy of a Will (NT)

In the Northern Territory, there is no requirement for an executor or administrator to hold a “reading of the will”. Instead, the Wills Act 2000 provides that certain people can see or obtain a copy of the deceased’s will. In this instance, a will refers to a part of a will, a revoked will, a copy of the will and a document that purports to be a will. This article explains how some people can obtain a copy of a will in the Northern Territory.

Last Will And Testament

A will-maker (known as a “testator”) executes a will outlining their wishes for their property after their death. This original copy of a will is often held by a private solicitor or the NT Public Trustee. Sometimes the testator prefers to retain custody of the document, and the family discovers it in the deceased’s important papers after his or her death.

Contrary to the depictions in film and television, the deceased’s solicitor or executor rarely holds a formal meeting to read the will. Typically, an executor will take charge of the original will to apply for probate, and then individually contact each beneficiary and other persons named in the will. This is a far more practical approach than waiting to gather all parties together, especially when beneficiaries may be scattered throughout Australia or the world.

Who Can Obtain A Copy Of A Will In NT?

Sometimes a family member is curious to know the contents of the will of a living relative. Without the testator’s express permission, there is no way for a person to obtain a copy of a will while the testator is still alive. Even someone who has power of attorney over the testator cannot access their will without prior authorisation. The solicitor who draws up a will must keep their client’s confidentiality and cannot reveal the contents of the will.

After the testator’s death, the contents of the will remain confidential except to certain family members, people referred to in the current or previous wills, proxies and people with a claim against the estate. Under section 54 of the Wills Act, the will-holder must allow the following people to have access to the will and make copies at their own expense:

  • Any person referred to in the will (including beneficiaries);
  • A beneficiary of a previous will;
  • The deceased’s surviving spouse or children;
  • A guardian or parent of a child mentioned in the will or who has legal entitlement under intestacy law;
  • The deceased’s guardian or parent;
  • Any person who would be entitled to inherit from the estate if the deceased died without making a will (intestate); and
  • Any person who has a claim at law or equity against the estate (such as a creditor).

The confidentiality of a will ends after probate is granted by the Supreme Court. Once the testator passes away and their will is probated, any member of the public can obtain a copy of the document from the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.

How To Obtain A Copy Of A Will In NT

A person with a right to view the will prior to probate should contact the executor or administrator directly to ask for access to the document. If the interested party does not know the identity of the will-holder, they should check with the deceased’s family members and lawyer. It may also be worthwhile to consult the funeral home where the deceased’s service was held, as they likely had contact with and knowledge of the executor of the estate.

What If The Executor Does Not Cooperate?

On occasion, an executor is unaware or unwilling to abide by their obligation to provide certain people with access to the will. An executor might withhold a copy of the will out of spite or to exercise power of the beneficiaries. For instance, an executor might dispute a person’s right to see the will as a de facto partner of the deceased. Unlike a spouse who can produce a marriage certificate, a de facto partner must provide further evidence to establish their status.

If the person is having difficulty obtaining the copy from the executor, it is best to contact a solicitor who can send a formal letter of demand outlining their client’s legal entitlement to access the will. A solicitor can also bring a court action to obtain a copy of the will. If the executor has refused a lawful request for access to the will, the Court can penalise the executor by having them repay the applicant’s legal costs in bringing the action.

Costs Of Obtaining A Copy Of A Will In NT

The will-holder can charge reasonable expenses to provide a copy of the will. For instance, reasonable costs might include the costs associated with photocopying and postage of the document but not extend to charging any professional fees for the service.

You are welcome to contact the experienced team of solicitors at Go To Court with any questions about how to obtain a copy of a will in the Northern Territory. Please call 1300 636 846 or email to make an appointment to discuss this or any legal matter.

Author

Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.
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