Procedures after death - estates

Property and assets belonging to a person who has died are called their estate. The following sections explain how to deal with an estate if you are an executor of someone's will. An estate can also be dealt with when there is no will, or if a will exists but no executor is appointed, or the appointed executor is not willing to take on the role. In this situation, the court will appoint an administrator, and the estate is distributed according to the terms of the will (if there is one) or the statutory order known as the intestacy rules.

There are many aspects to dealing with an estate. Certain legal procedures must be followed, and financial matters sorted out. Human relationships are never simple and death can complicate matters, especially if it is unexpected and there is no will. Even when there is a will, and seemingly amicable relations exist among the deceased's family, lovers and friends, it may not take long for tensions to surface. Often, death can be a catalyst for exposing unresolved conflicts.

Inheritance problems resulting from complex family and personal relationships, perhaps involving adopted or ex-nuptial children, and disputes over family property, may sometimes lead to expensive and time-consuming court cases. Before considering this option, however, it is wise to get as much advice and information as you can. A court case does not guarantee anyone, except perhaps the lawyers involved, a happy outcome. In the following sections you may find useful explanations and answers to common inheritance problems as well as a practical guide to some of the rules for inheriting.

Rest Assured: a Legal Guide to Wills, Estates and Funerals in New South Wales, 5th edition, by Rosemary Long and Trudy Coffey. Published by The Federation Press, 2011.

Online edition published by the Legal Information Access Centre, State Library of NSW.  The online version has been updated to reflect changes to the law. Last updated October 2014.

© Library Council of New South Wales, 2011. 

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