What Are Letters Testamentary in a Will Probate Process?

Letters testamentary must be obtained before property is distributed.

Letters testamentary are sometimes known as letters of administration. Obtaining letters testamentary is one of the first steps of the probate process. Probate proceedings usually begin with a custodian or an executor of a will admitting the will to a probate court. Once the will is admitted, a probate judge analyzes it to ensure it is valid. Upon an acknowledgment of validity, a decedent's estate is then distributed pursuant to the provisions found in her will.


Letters Testamentary

Probate proceedings usually begin with an executor or personal representative seeking to obtain letters testamentary from the probate court. Letters testamentary, also known as letters probate or letters of administration, are issued by a probate court to a personal representative or executor. Letters testamentary grant an executor or personal representative the legal authority to administer a decedent's estate. In some states, a probate bond is required before letters testamentary are issued.


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Probate Bond

Many probate courts require a probate bond before issuing letters testamentary. Probate bonds give heirs to an estate protection from a personal representative/executor against negligence, fraud, theft or misrepresentation. Probate bonds have various names. If an executor was named in the deceased person's will, the bond is called a probate bond. The bond is known as an administrator's bond when there is no will and probate court must appoint an administrator. The amount of a probate bond may be issued by the probate court or specified in a decedent's will.


Personal Representative's Duties

Once a personal representative receives her letters testamentary, she may begin administering the decedent's estate. This involves sending notice to the deceased person's creditors and paying creditor's claims. Personal representatives frequently deal with the deceased person's bank and/or other financial institutions when settling debts. After all debts are settled, the remaining property and assets are distributed to heirs.


Other Considerations

It is common for banks, government agencies and other financial institutions to require a copy of an executor's letters testamentary before recognizing an executor's authority to act on behalf of a decedent's estate. If required, an executor typically must present a certified copy of his letters testamentary to the decedent's financial institutions. Once accepted, the executor may then access the decedent's accounts and assets.