Letters Testamentary are formal documents granted by the Surrogate Court which give the executor authority to settle the estate. They can be granted with full or limited authority depending on the law and estate plan.
Obtaining letters can take time as a judge will evaluate the validity of the deceased’s Will and determine your ability to serve as executor. Oftentimes, this process requires a hearing before the judge. Learn more about Obtaining Letters of Testamentary without a Will.
1. Death Certificate
If you want to serve as the executor of an estate, or have legal authority to act on behalf of an estate, you will need a letter of testamentary. This is proof of your legal authority to sell off estate assets, pay off debts, and even parcel out personal family heirlooms.
Typically, you will need to obtain the original death certificate to start this process. It will list the date of death and often includes important details like the cause of death. Some states require a certified copy while others do not.
If the deceased person lived abroad, you may need a Consular Report of Death Abroad (CRDA). You can usually get this from the U.S. Embassy or a consulate in the country where the deceased person died. An experienced New York probate attorney can help you obtain these documents correctly. This is an important step, since a mistake can delay the execution of the estate.
2. Application for Letters of Testamentary
Letters testamentary, when paired with a valid death certificate, provide the Executor of an estate the legal authority to handle financial and formal affairs required to close out an estate. This can include paying off debts, accessing and selling property, and closing out accounts.
Often, the person who was nominated as executor in a will will have to present letters testamentary to institutions such as banks and financial institutions to gain permission to settle the estate. This can also be necessary if you are trying to sell real estate or other assets in the name of a deceased loved one.
A letter of testamentary is proof that you are legally authorized to settle a loved one’s estate and follow their wishes. The process can be complicated, but it is critical to ensuring that the deceased’s wishes are followed in full. The right probate attorney can help you through this process. If you have any questions, contact Wood Law Group to discuss your situation in more detail.
3. Petition for Letters of Administration
When a loved one passes away, you might need access to their bank accounts, or maybe you want to sell property they owned in their name. In both cases, the banks and financial institutions will want proof of your authority to manage their affairs. The best way to do this is with a letter of testamentary, which names you as the executor of their estate and grants you the authority to take action.
The petition must be accompanied by the original will, and a family tree illustrating the relationships and heirs to the estate. A New York probate attorney can help ensure that the necessary documentation is included.
The court will review the documentation and conduct a hearing to evaluate your ability to serve as executor of the estate. This includes verifying that you are a legal adult of sound mind and making sure you have the capacity to manage the assets. After this process is complete, the judge will issue a Letter of Administration.
4. Order for Letters of Testamentary
Once the court has granted letters of testamentary, it will issue an order stating the executor’s full authority to handle the estate. However, it is important to note that the letters will not allow you to collect assets that pass outside of the probate process. For example, the decedent’s bank accounts that are held jointly with rights of survivorship with another person will automatically pass to the surviving joint owner (regardless of what the will says) and do not have to be collected by the executor. A New York estate attorney can explain these and other scenarios to you.
Being nominated as executor of a loved one’s will or administrator of an estate is a huge honor and shows that people trust you to carry out their final wishes. It can also be a complex and long process, especially if a will is not present. A letter of testamentary, along with a death certificate, gives an executor the authority they need to begin their formal duties and close out the estate.