How Is a Letter of Testamentary Obtained?

A letter of testamentary is granted by visiting the probate officer in local court or city hall and presenting a decedent’s official last will and testament along with a death certificate. A letter of testamentary, which is sometimes referred to as a “letter of administration,” can only be obtained by an executor of an estate.

A letter of testamentary is needed by the executor of an estate to prove to courts, banks and even relatives that the person acting as an executor has the legal right to do so. This official documentation allows the executor to take inventory of assets, pay expenses and debts and make distribution of property and belongings. In the absence of a letter of testamentary, the executor has no proven ability to act on the decedent’s behalf.

With a letter of testamentary, the personal representative of the decedent can carry out the tasks that are necessary to settle the decedent’s estate. This usually includes banking, real estate transaction and disposing of assets. This person, who is sometimes referred to as a “fiduciary,” must abide by the highest standards of honor.

Because banks and other organizations sometimes need a copy of the letter of testamentary for a decedent when processing a transaction, it is important for representatives who are appointed to execute an estate to obtain multiple copies.

When the decedent had property located in more than one state, probate may have to be opened in each state, each court providing its own letters testamentary.

If the decedent didn’t have a valid will, the estate is overseen by an administrator rather than an executor. This is usually a surviving spouse or the next-closest relative. The document of authority is a letter of administration or letter of representation. The administrator follows the applicable state laws of intestacy to settle and distribute the estate.