Letters testamentary – in singular called “letter of testamentary” – are documents issued by a probate court allowing the executor of a deceased person’s will to perform the functions outlined in the will. If a deceased person does not have a will, a letter of testamentary can still be issued by the court to appoint someone responsible for the deceased’s estate, bank accounts, and debts.
This document is also sometimes referred to as Articles of Administration, Letter of Administration, or Letter of Representation. Sometimes, a Letter of Administration or Articles of Administration refer specifically to the document issued by probate court to appoint the deceased’s administrator, if the deceased did not leave a will. In the absence of a will, the deceased’s property passes to their next of kin according to specific state laws, but some states will appoint a relative as administrator to help divide the estate.
Letters testamentary cannot be obtained online – instead, as the executor or administrator of the estate, you must go to your local probate court or city hall, and present them with the decedent’s death certificate and, if available, their last will and testament. In some cases, you may also have to fill out a Petition for Probate of Will and Issuance of Letters Testamentary, and Waivers and Joinders by each person named in the will.
How are Letters Testamentary Used?
A letter of testamentary is used, along with a legally certified death certificate, to show that you, the executor, have access to the deceased’s estate, accounts, tax information, and debts. A certified copy of the letter will be required by official businesses and government agencies before you have access to anything regarding the deceased.
Letters testamentary should only allow the executor of the estate to perform actions specifically described in the will, such as selling real estate, dividing property between heirs, setting up charities, and paying debts or taxes. The executor can gain access to the deceased’s bank account, utilities bills to transfer responsibility to the estate, pay the attorney for any legal counsel provided regarding probate court or the will, or hire an attorney to help divide the estate.
When are Letters Testamentary Invalid?
If there is any dispute in probate court or among the family regarding the deceased’s will, then the letters testamentary may not pass to the named executor, or the letters testamentary could be disputed after the court awards them to the executor. This is rare, but it means the executor will not have access to the deceased’s real estate and bank accounts until the disputes have been settled.
As the executor, personal representative, administrator, or fiduciary of the deceased’s estate, you have the responsibility and duty to:
- Candor and honesty
- Good faith
If you cannot perform these services in respect to the deceased’s last will and testament, or the deceased’s family or spouse believes you cannot perform these duties, then there could be dispute over the will and therefore also the letters testamentary.
Download our free Will, Living Will, or Last Will and Testament documents to ensure you have a named executor who can gain access to your estate after you have passed.