Navigating Deceased Estates Australia:

A Comprehensive Guide

Deceased Estates Australia

Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult and emotional time. On top of the grief, there are often complex legal and financial matters that need to be addressed when it comes to their estate. Whether or not they left behind a will, managing a deceased estate can be daunting and overwhelming for those left behind.

With Deceased Estates Australia, we'll explain what happens if there is no will, how to apply for a tax file number for the estate, the administration process, and what to do if assets need to be sold. By the end, you'll better understand the steps involved in handling a deceased estate in Australia so you can navigate this challenging time with more confidence.

What Happens if There is No Will?

When someone passes away without leaving a valid will, they are considered to have died "intestate." This means their estate will be distributed according to the intestacy laws in the state or territory where they lived rather than according to their own wishes.

The intestacy laws vary across Australia, but generally, they dictate that the deceased's assets will be distributed in the following order:

  1. Spouse (including a de facto partner) - they will receive the entire estate.
  2. Children - if no spouse exists, the children will receive the entire estate in equal shares.
  3. Parents - if there are no children, the estate goes to the deceased's parents.
  4. Siblings - if there are no parents, the estate is divided among the deceased's siblings.
  5. Other next of kin - if there are no siblings, the estate goes to other more distant relatives like nieces, nephews, grandparents, etc.

Without surviving relatives, the entire estate will go to the state or territory government.

It's important to note that the definition of "spouse" can sometimes include a de facto partner, same-sex partner, or multiple partners. The intestacy laws aim to distribute the estate in a way that reflects the deceased's likely wishes, but this may not always align with their actual preferences.

Without a will, administering the estate can be more complicated and time-consuming. An application will need to be made to the Supreme Court for a grant of letters of administration, which gives the appointed administrator the legal authority to manage the estate. This person is usually the closest living relative.

Overall, having a valid will can make distributing a deceased's assets much smoother and ensure their final wishes are honoured. If there is no will, the intestacy laws will determine how the estate is handled, which may not align with what the deceased would have wanted.

Applying for a Tax File Number for the Deceased Estate Australia

One of the first steps in managing a deceased estate is to obtain a tax file number (TFN) for the estate itself. This is necessary for the estate to be able to carry out various tax-related activities, such as:

To apply for a TFN for a deceased estate, you'll need to complete the "Application for a Tax File Number for a Deceased Estate" form, which can be found on the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) website.

The form requires the following information:

Once the form is completed and all required documents are gathered, it can be submitted to the ATO either online, by mail, or in person at an ATO shopfront.

The ATO will then process the application and issue a TFN for the deceased estate. This TFN will be used for all tax-related activities and reporting for the estate going forward.

It's essential to obtain the TFN as soon as possible, as many of the next steps in administering the estate, such as filing the final tax return, cannot be completed without it. Failure to apply for a TFN promptly can cause delays and complications in the estate administration.

The Administration Process for a Deceased Estate

Once the initial steps of obtaining a TFN and determining whether there is a valid will have been taken, the process of administering the deceased estate can begin. This involves several key steps:

  1. Locate the will and identify the executor: If there is a will, the first step is to locate it and identify the executor. The executor manages and distributes the deceased's assets according to the will's instructions.
  2. Apply for a grant of probate: If there is a will, the executor must apply for a grant of probate from the Supreme Court. This legal document confirms the executor's authority to administer the estate.
  3. Identify and value the assets: The executor or administrator must compile a comprehensive list of all the deceased's assets, including real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal possessions, and any outstanding debts or liabilities.
  4. Notify relevant parties: The executor or administrator must notify various parties of the death, such as banks, insurance companies, government agencies, and any creditors or debtors.
  5. Manage the estate's finances: This includes closing accounts, transferring ownership of assets, paying outstanding debts and taxes, and opening a bank account for the estate.
  6. Distribute the assets: Once all debts and taxes have been paid, the remaining assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will or according to the intestacy laws if there is no will.
  7. File the final tax return: The executor or administrator is responsible for filing the deceased's final tax return and any tax returns for the estate itself.
  8. Provide a final accounting: Finally, the executor or administrator must provide a detailed accounting of how the estate was managed and distributed to the beneficiaries.

The entire administration process can take several months to a year or more, depending on the complexity of the estate and any issues that arise. It's important for the executor or administrator to be diligent in fulfilling their duties and to seek professional advice when needed to ensure the estate is handled properly.

Failure to follow the correct procedures or mismanagement of the estate can result in legal issues and disputes among beneficiaries. Therefore, the executor or administrator must understand their responsibilities and seek help from experts, such as lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors, throughout the process.

Selling Assets of the Deceased Estate

In some cases, selling assets from the deceased estate may be necessary to pay outstanding debts, cover administration costs, or distribute the remaining assets to beneficiaries. This can be a complex process, so it's important to understand the steps involved.

  1. Identify assets that need to be sold: The executor or administrator will review the estate's assets and determine which ones should be sold. These may include real estate, vehicles, investments, or personal possessions.
  2. Obtain valuations: Before selling any assets, the executor or administrator should obtain professional valuations to ensure the assets are sold for a fair price. This may involve hiring real estate agents, auctioneers, or other experts.
  3. Obtain necessary approvals: Depending on the type of asset, the executor or administrator may need approval from the court or the beneficiaries before selling. For example, the sale of real estate often requires court approval.
  4. Market and sell the assets: Once the necessary approvals are in place, the executor or administrator can begin marketing and selling the assets. This may involve listing properties for sale, holding auctions, or negotiating private sales.
  5. Distribute the proceeds: Any funds received from the sale of assets must be used to pay outstanding debts and administration costs first. Any remaining funds can then be distributed to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or the intestacy laws.

It's important to note that selling assets from a deceased estate can have tax implications, such as capital gains tax. The executor or administrator should consult with a tax professional to ensure they understand and comply with all relevant tax laws and regulations.

Additionally, the sale of certain assets, such as the deceased's primary residence, may be subject to specific rules and exemptions. The executor or administrator should seek legal advice to ensure they are handling the sale of assets correctly and protecting the interests of the beneficiaries.

Overall, selling assets from a deceased estate can be a complex and sensitive process. By working closely with professionals and following the proper procedures, the executor or administrator can ensure that the assets are sold fairly and transparently and that the proceeds are distributed appropriately.


Navigating the process of a deceased estate in Australia can be a daunting and emotional experience. However, by understanding the key steps involved, including what happens if there is no will, how to apply for a tax file number, the administration process, and the sale of assets, you can better prepare yourself and your loved ones for this challenging time.

Remember, seeking professional advice from lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors throughout the process is important to ensure the estate is handled correctly and the deceased's wishes are honoured. With the proper guidance and support, you can successfully manage a deceased estate and provide closure for your family.

If you have any further questions or need assistance with a deceased estate, don't hesitate to reach out to the relevant authorities or seek professional help. By being informed and proactive, you can navigate this process with greater confidence and ease.