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Letters of Testamentary – Info You Have to Know

What are Letters of Testamentary?

If you expect to be involved in the Executorship of a loved one’s Last Will & Testament or Trust, you should plan on taking the steps necessary to obtain a “Letter of Testamentary.” Why? Because a Letter of Testamentary is a legal document that formally empowers an Executor to take certain actions on behalf of an estate. The Letter of Testamentary is provided by the probate court and usually declares that the Executor possesses the legal authority to access financial accounts and other assets described in a Will or trust. Once a Letter of Testamentary is obtained, along with a copy of the Death Certificate, an Executor will usually have what they need to begin paying off any debts incurred by the decedent and paying any taxes owed to the government by the estate.

What are Letters of Testamentary?

A letter of testamentary formally declares that an executor of an estate possesses certain overarching authority to take the necessary to ensure the decedent’s estate is managed properly and their wishes are followed according to the terms stipulated in the decedent’s Will or trust. When you have this letter in hand, you can begin contacting financial institutions such as banks, mortgage lenders, creditors, etc., and requesting access to accounts and policies. 

How Do You Get Letters of Testamentary?

To secure an actual Letter of Testamentary, the Executor of an estate will typically need to provide the following documents to a probate court:

  • A copy of the decedent’s Will (if one exists)
  • A copy of the decedent’s Death Certificate
  • Any forms and documents required by the probate court 
  • Information about yourself (to ensure you are the properly designated Executor of the estate)

These documents, in addition to a filing fee (the amount varies depending on the state in which you reside), will need to be submitted to the proper probate court for review and approval. Once submitted, the probate court will schedule a hearing. During the hearing, the probate court will conduct its due diligence to verify the validity of the Will and assess the capabilities of the named or appointed Executor. Once approved, the probate court will issue a Letter of Testamentary.

Can You Get a Letter of Testamentary Without a Will?

In short, yes, you can get a Letter of Testamentary even if the decedent died intestate (meaning he or she didn’t leave a Will). If this is the case, the process just includes another step. 

The first thing you’ll need to do if there’s no Will or other Estate Plans is file to open probate through the local courts. Once you do that, a hearing date will be set to appoint an Administrator (also known as an Executor or Personal Representative) – this is often a spouse or next of kin. 

The Administrator will be charged with detailing all assets in the estate, settling debts, and paying taxes. He or she would be issued what’s actually known as a Letter of Administration to gain the legal authority needed to deal with all these issues and anything else regarding the estate.  

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Where Do You Get Letters of Testamentary?

As mentioned above, a valid Letter of Testamentary can only be obtained from a probate court since it is the entity empowered to verify Executors and furnish letters of testamentary. 

Once you get the Letter of Testamentary, consider making multiple copies. The need for copies also applies to the death certificate and Will of the decedent. Why? Because making multiple copies mitigates the risk of an Executor losing the sole Letter of Testamentary and suddenly becoming unable to complete the tasks necessary to administer a decedent’s estate. Having multiple copies also makes it easier to provide documents to financial institutions, government agencies, etc., in order to successfully access and close bank accounts, transfer property, and/or transfer the ownership interest in a prized possession or heirloom to a beneficiary. In most instances, having ten copies of these documents would be more than enough to complete the tasks associated with managing the estate of a decedent. 

Letter of Testamentary Not Necessary for a Trust

If you are debating whether to create a Last Will & Testament or form a Trust, it is worth noting that you do not need a Letter of Testamentary in order to administer a Trust. In fact, if you decide to use a trust instrument for your estate plan, you could potentially avoid the entire probate process, which means circumventing any court involvement in the administration and distribution of your estate assets. 

Have Questions? Contact an Experienced Trust & Estates Attorney Knowledgeable of Letters of Testamentary

If you are looking for guidance on how to obtain a Letter of Testamentary or for advice on how to effectively navigate the probate process, then take action by contacting Codi M. Dada Law Office P.C. Our law firm takes pride in our superior client service by providing everything you need to get through the probate process as quickly and efficiently as possible. Codi is here to help and can provide a level of assurance and counsel to make the probate process stress free.

Codi M. Dada Law Offices P.C. provides assistance to clients throughout Marin County and the surrounding areas, guiding them through the probate process.

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