If a loved one has died without leaving a valid Will then you may need to make an application to the WA Supreme Court for a grant of Letters of Administration so that you (or perhaps another family member) can then deal with the estate of the deceased person as his or her personal legal representative.
In broad terms, an application for Letters of Administration can be made by any one or more of the persons entitled to distribution of the estate, or to any other person (whether a creditor of the estate or not) if there is no person entitled to distribution of the estate.
The application to the Court must be supported by an affidavit that proves the applicant’s entitlement to receive a grant of Letters of Administration. That affidavit will (amongst other things) need to demonstrate that the applicant has made a careful search for a Will and made appropriate enquiries to ascertain whether the deceased left a Will elsewhere. For example, the applicant should conduct a thorough search of the deceased’s personal papers and contact the Public Trustee and any former solicitor or accountant of the deceased enquiring as to whether they hold a Will for the deceased.
However, before making an application, it is also prudent to consider whether in fact Letters of Administration are required. For example, if the deceased leaves only a small estate then an application may not be required to be made. For example, section 139 of the Administration Act 1903 (WA) allows authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADI’s) (eg banks) to release funds up to $50,000 in certain circumstances. An ADI is also permitted to release funds in payment of funeral expenses (or to reimburse a person who has already paid those expenses) and pay the balance of an account to any person who appears to the satisfaction of that ADI to be the widower, widow, parent or child of the deceased, or a person who was living as a de facto partner of the deceased immediately before death. However, in practice most ADI’s will only release funds if the amount they hold for the deceased is less than $20,000. Where that is the case then the bank will normally accept evidence of death, entitlement and signing of indemnities by the person/s entitled to apply for Letters of Administration.
Despite the above, it is also worthwhile noting that most life insurance and superannuation policies will require that Letters of Administration be obtained and as such, it may be practical to obtain Letters of Administration before dealing with accounts held with an ADI.
As a final point, it is also worth noting that in WA Letters of Administration are not needed to transfer ownership of a motor vehicle to a beneficiary of the estate (see the Department of Transport website on this point). Instead, you will need to supply the current licence papers (if available) and a Statutory Declaration specific to deceased estates completed by the proposed beneficiary. A transfer fee will be payable at a reduced rate of vehicle licence duty.
Finally, if you have read this far and still have queries or if you think that you will need some assistance with an application then now is probably the time to obtain some practical advice.
Austral Legal can help and we offer an initial discounted 30-minute SmartMove appointment for $80 by phone or in person at our office to discuss your situation. Bookings can be made online or simply by getting in touch.
Once we have a handle on what is required we will ordinarily be able to offer a fixed fee for preparing and filing the application with the WA Supreme Court. As a guide, that pricing will typically be in the range of $1,800 – $2,500 plus the Court filing fee, which at the time of writing is $370.