All probates are listed on the Registers (lists in large heavy books), which were compiled at the various courts around New Zealand and National Archives holds most (if not all) of these Registers. However the files that the Registers refer to are not all at National Archives. Sometimes the Registers have a very wide date range and the more recent probate files referred to in the Registers may still be held at the courts. But at least you get to know that the probate exists and where to write to and request a copy.
All of Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin probates up until 1997 are listed on Archway.
Wellington is not complete: Here is an update from Wellington Archives.
- Palmerston North, up until the 1960's is done.
- Napier up until the 1960's is done.
- Wellington up until the 1960's is done.
- New Plymouth not done.
- Masterston not done.
- Wanganui not done.
- Blenheim is fully done and on Archway.
- Nelson is fully done and on Archway.
Wellington does however have an in house database compiled by the NZSG that they can look up for you. This database comprises of over 700,000 probates indexed from the registers but the dates vary from court to court. The list was compiled from the NZSG Index4 and is also available on the later CD Index5. The CD is available at most large libraries.
The government of the day set the amount of money under which a persons possession were not required to be probated. So if you cannot find a probate this may be a reason. If on the other hand, the person was very rich, you may not find a probate because they had shifted their wealth to a company trust or gifted it before they died to avoid death duties.
For the latter, you may have luck following the sale of real estate, getting the company name and looking up the company registers which are held at Archives. Gifting is recorded now days by the IRD but IRD's records, like the Public Trust records were excluded from the 1957 Archives Act. Possibly they required people to record gifting from an early period, I really don't know.
Another reason a probate is not available is that the person died without making a will. In this case the person's affairs were dealt with by the Public Trustee and will be listed in the Intestate Registers.
Another reason is that it may be recorded under a different name or its been indexed with a spelling error. People sometimes went by one name but a probate would be in their official name.
There may be other reasons that a probate cannot be found and I'd like to hear from you about these.
The LDS is currently digitising some probates for us. Three cheers for that. It will not be comprehensive.