Is a Letter of Testamentary or Administration Needed?

As the executor of an estate, you have many duties to carry out in order to settle the estate. Depending on the level of estate planning carried out by the deceased, you need either a letter of testamentary or administration to perform your duties. To help you determine which type of letter you need and how to get it, here is what you need to know.  

Which Letter Do You Need?

While settling the deceased's estate, you will need to present proof that you have the right to make decisions for the estate. For instance, the bank might require proof that you are the executor of the estate before allowing you to close the account that the deceased had open. Your word is not enough. However, a letter of testamentary or administration will be.  

If the deceased had a will, and he or she specifically named you as the executor of the estate, you can obtain a letter of testamentary. The letter gives you the authority to make decisions for the estate. Unfortunately, not everyone leaves behind a will. If that is the case with the deceased, you can obtain a letter of administration. The letter of administration carries the same weight at the letter of testamentary.  

How Do You Obtain a Letter?

If you have been named by the deceased as his or her executor, obtaining a letter of testamentary is relatively simple. You have to file a copy of the will with the probate court. After reviewing the will, the court will issue the letter needed.  

If there was no will, your path to obtaining the necessary letter is slightly different. The court has to first select an executor for the estate. Whether or not you will be named as the executor depends on several factors.  

One of the most important factors considered is whether or not the deceased was married or has adult children. If the deceased was married, chances are the court will name the spouse as the executor. If you were not the spouse, you would need the spouse to waive on being named the executor.  

If there are adult children alive, they would also be offered the opportunity before you. Depending on the state in which you live, there might be other relatives that are considered before you could be named. 

If you are named the executor, you can then request a letter of administration from the probate court.  

An estate-planning attorney can help you get started with obtaining the letter that applies to your situation.