What is a letter of testamentary: Do you need a lawyer to get a letter of testamentary?

If you are acting as an executor of an estate which implies that you’ll be in charge of paying utilities, asset classifying, and making distributions to the legitimate beneficiaries. However, for pursuing all these duties, you are required to be given legal authority to act by a court of law. Such authority is given to you by a letter of testamentary.

You may not usually hear the terms related to the procedure of estate settlement. Many people experience it for the first time, so there is a lot to explore. Try looking into every aspect, may it be from being familiar with the basics of probate court requirements to the terms and documents used. Likewise, knowing what is a Letter of Testamentary? Or how much does a Letter of Testamentary cost? Is quite important.

Therefore, we have formulated a guide, to share basic insights regarding what is a Letter of Testamentary, how you get them, and also how much does a Letter of Testamentary costs. Keep on scrolling the guide to get answers to all your queries.

What is a Letter of testamentary?

The probate court provides a document named Letter of Testamentary to the estate executor. With the help of this document, the Executor gets the authority to act formally on the decedent’s name. It grants the right to tackle financial and other tasks related to the estate’s closure. Fundamentally, it provides the authority to act in a completely fiduciary manner.

Letter of Testamentary and relevant death certificate are normally sufficient to grant permission to an Executor, specifically to tackle all important formal and financial duties required for estate’s closure. With such documents, all the taxes and debts of the states can be paid by an Executor easily.

Some basic facts about the letter of testamentary

A Letter of Testamentary is named as a “Letter of Representation” or “Letter of Administration” as well. If you want to get the document, the court must label you as the estate executor. Some basic facts about such topic are mentioned below:

  • This document allows you to pay debts of the estate, receive an inventory of the assets of the estate and divide those assets in the decedent’s name
  • The main motive of a Letter of Testimony is to prove you have a lawful authority to act as someone’s estate executor
  • It is usually preferred to attain several copies of an original document because a lot of officials may ask for copies whenever you try to proceed business with them on the estate’s behalf
  • Many other tasks you might perform as an executor when you get a Letter of Testamentary include – several financial matters, banking endeavors, and other transactions of real estate

How to obtain a letter of testamentary?

Till now you must be aware of – what is a letter of testamentary. Let’s have a look at – how can you get this document?

Whenever a beloved one passes away, it becomes important to name someone (normally a friend, parents, adult child, spouse, or another close family member) as an Executor. This is usually done with the help of a Will, but if there comes a situation where the decedent left the world without a Will (also known as intestate), then courts make sure that it hires somebody else. The Executor may then attain the document they require to proceed.

To obtain the letter, you are required to provide the below-mentioned information:

  • The Death Certificate
  • A copied document of the Will (If you have it with you)
  • To know that you are the right Executor, information regarding yourself is needed
  • All the forms that the court has asked for

The following steps will help you obtain a letter of testamentary once a loved one dies.

Step 1: Get a death certificate

The first thing that you would need to get a letter of testamentary is getting a death certificate. The death certificate can be easily acquired from the local vital records, health department, or county recorder. The death certificate usually contains the time, date, and reason for death. It also contains detailed information of the deceased including marital status and names of their parents at the time of death.

The death certificates usually come under public records that are achievable by anyone in some state. The relatives of a deceased person can request a death certificate from the records. VitalCheck, a third-party company, also works to provide death certificates. These certificates can also be obtained from Funeral homes where the last ceremonies of the deceased had been performed.

In some states, requesting a death certificate can be problematic if you are not a relative of the deceased. But it’s not impossible. Ask for the local dept requirements to obtain the certificate, comply with them and start processing your request.

Step 2: Get a duplicate of the Will

The next is to get the copy of the last will or testament prepared and submitted by the deceased. In most cases, the process of obtaining a copy may vary but it can be achieved from the government registrar’s office.

You will have to meet the requirements and testify that you are one of the executors in the will or testament that you are trying to obtain. For this, you will likely need to show any form to confirm your identification. Most of the time, executors know where the Will of the deceased is held and commonly the departments already have the copy of the will and forms of identifications of the executors with them. The commonplace will be at a bank’s security deposit box where the executor has a joint account.

If a person passed away without making a will, then for the distribution of his property and the assets, a probate lawyer should be hired by the heirs. The process of claiming that you are the legal beneficiary of the estate is intricate and you will need to provide numerous documents to prove your heirship.

You will put forward the above information, fees, application, and needed documents to the court, and then there will be a scheduled hearing. Throughout the hearing, the court will confirm the will and contemplate your potential to work as Executor. After that, the Letters of Testamentary will be provided.

Step 3: Submit to probate court

The last step that you should comply with in obtaining a letter of testament includes appearing in the state courthouse and petitioning at the probate court. You may likely hope to avoid the probate court and its process, but it is the only door to knock when you need to testify the executors of the deceased Will and obtain the letter of testamentary.

To testify your identity, you must have a copy of the last Will or testament and the copy of forms that prove your identity. The legal fees of a letter of testamentary depend greatly on the state, deceased Will, and the property in question. This cost may lie somewhere between $45 to $1,200.

You will put forward the above information, fees, application, and needed documents to the court, and then there will be a scheduled hearing. Throughout the hearing, the court will confirm the will and contemplate your potential to work as Executor. After that, the Letters of Testamentary will be provided.

Reminder: You need to have a backup of many copies, as most institutions will ask for originals.

If these detailed steps don’t work for you while living in NY, then check the link to know more;

How long does it take to issue a letter of testamentary?

The time required for the issuance of a letter of testamentary depends on the jurisdiction where the documents are submitted, the backlog of cases a court has, and especially, whether the submitted documents and request forms are completed.

In states where the staff is efficient or the cases are less, the process of obtaining the letter of testament takes less time to finish. The delay mostly occurs in the summer season where most of the probate judges are on vacation.

The delay may also occur if you have mailed the documents through the post. In-person filing takes less time as it usually gets checked by the clerk on the time of submission and if everything is on point, then the documents will land directly on the judge’s desk for signature.

A file with incomplete documents would be marked incomplete and can be misplaced if it is posted.

Only a missing document in the initial filing can take months of delay in the issuance of a letter of testamentary. Whether you are filing for a small estate or a large one, it is not a single-day process. If every document is present, it will take a minimum of sixty days from the day of filing.

Stuck in estate planning? Here’s a short explanation.

How much does a letter of testamentary cost?

Even though the original document will cost some bucks (somewhere between $5 and $20 for every copy, relying on the state and court you are in), the procedure to attain the Letters will be even more.

You will be required to pay:

  • A filing fee (could be somewhere from $50 to $1200, relying on the fees of local court) is needed to request the court – this occurs when you start a probate
  • If you employ an attorney for probate, there will be charges linked with that. There is no particular estimate on the required costs that you will have to pay for However, for an approximate average cost, expect to pay $2,000 to a probate lawyer. The cost is subject to change according to your situation.

Is it possible to obtain a letter of testamentary without will?

Of course, you can obtain a Letter of Testamentary even if there is no Will left by the decedent. However, in such a case, the procedure will be a bit longer. If there are no other Estate Plans or Will, the first and foremost step is to file for probate via the local courts. Once you are done with that, a date for the hearing will be fixed to designate an Administrator (also called Personal Representative or an Executor) – this is mostly a close relative or spouse.

The Administrator will be responsible for listing all of the estate’s assets, paying taxes, and settling debts. They would be provided with a Letter of Administration to possess the legal ownership required to tackle all these matters and everything else related to the estate.

Is a letter of testamentary required with a trust?

No, Letters of Testamentary are not required to manage a Trust. In reality, a Trust administration tries to avoid the whole procedure of probate and removes the requirement for any court interference – Both of these are significant benefits of forming a Trust in the 1st place.

Developing and accurately funding a Trust can save someone’s money, time, and a lot of stress. Trusts are confidential, and they can be a lifeline for those you leave alone. Arranging your Will and Trust is inexpensive and simple when you make use of the trustworthy services of Will & Trust.

Why is a letter of testamentary required?

In almost every step where you have to deal with the deceased person’s assets, you will need a letter of testamentary. To name a few conditions, you will need the letter for;

  • Selling property to a new buyer
  • Filing tax returns on behalf of the decedent
  • Transferring the estate to the heirs
  • Retrieving assets from trusts or unclaimed estates
  • Filing a lawsuit on behalf of the deceased
  • Filing a wrongful death lawsuit or taking the action against the wrongful death of the deceased.
  • The investigation involved in the lawsuit
  • Retrieving insurance policies
  • Liquidating bank accounts and assets
  • Looking after finances and medical records

You can legally proceed without the letter of testamentary in the above-mentioned (but not limited to) scenarios. Unless you have been testified by the court, proved that you are the legal beneficiary, and have all the legal documents, you would not be able to make any move further. But only by showing the letter of testamentary.

Difference between Letter of testament and letters of administration

Letters of testamentary and letters of administration translate the same agenda. In these letters, the estate court will determine the position of the beneficiary to deal with the deceased estate.

The distinction would be defined whether the deceased had a Will before his death. Through the Will, the court will be responsible to issue a letter of testamentary or letter of administration.

The following comparison will help you understand more clearly the main difference between both the letters.

Letter of TestamentaryLetters of Administration
A Letter of testamentary is a court order authorizing an executor to make decisions about the estate or property of the deceased.If someone dies without preparing a Will, the court has to determine an Administrator. Once the Administrator has been defined, the court will issue a letter of administration mentioning the name and the position of the person. The court certifies through the letter that a person is qualified for the Administrator and will be looking after the deceased estate.
 The administrator is obligated to make the court determine the proper heirs of the estate if there’s no Will produced. This is called the ‘Declaration of the Heirship’.

A court can determine the administrator before the declaration of the heirs, but the administrator cannot distribute the estate until the court recognizes the heirs.

To save the court’s and his own precious time, an applicant can apply for obtaining letters of administration and the form of declaration of heirship.


A letter of testamentary is granted to an executor, which allows him to perform on behalf of the dedent. He or she gets the authority to make financial and other important estate closing decisions through a letter of testamentary.

  • Parents
  • Children or grandchildren
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings (if siblings have died or the decedent had no siblings then niece and nephews over the age of 18).
  • Half-siblings (if half-siblings had passed away, then niece and nephews)
  • Uncles or Aunts
  • Grandparents

It depends on the circumstances and the requirements which specify the duration for preparation and issuance of a letter of testamentary. However, if there is no intricate information, taxes are paid, and forms are filled properly, then it may take between three and five weeks to issue a letter of testamentary.

Once you receive the letters of administration, you will be entitled to manage the following particulars (and any other tasks listed in the Will);

  • Pay taxes that are due
  • Clear funeral expenses
  • Pay loans and to creditors (if any)
  • Distribute the property among beneficiaries

The main purpose of a Testamentary trust is to grant an additional level of protection and control over the asset distribution to beneficiaries. Also, there are tax advantages that can be availed through a testamentary trust. It is assumed to be an effective estate planning tool.

If one co-owner of the joint account dies without making a Will or setting a beneficiary for the assets, then the surviving owner of the account will directly become the sole owner of the account. The assets and liabilities will also be transferred. The account, however, will not need to go via probate court to transfer the assets.

Ending note

If we talk generally, then people don’t want to imagine themselves passing away, but no one can also not ignore the reality. Realizing the procedure our family and friends will have to face can help us manage things now, and we can make things feasible in the foreseeable future. Letters of Testamentary, and everything that comes along with estate administration and probate, can be done easily when you act according to a plan.

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