What Are Letters of Administration?

If you’ve had a loved one or family who passed away owning property or other assets, then you’re likely all too familiar with just how challenging, and not to mention, frustrating, it can be to obtain information from third parties such as banks or insurance companies. Before allowing you to proceed in collecting and closing a decedent’s accounts, these institutions will require proof of your ability to act on behalf of a decedent. You’ve probably been told by a bank representative that you need to provide “Letters” before they can release a decedent’s information or funds to you. So what exactly is this document and how can you go about obtaining it?

The General Concept of Letters

Letters are quite the misnomer. Because of its name, many people are confused by what exactly this document is. There is a common misconception that Letters are a type of correspondence or other written documents. However, in probate, Letters are much more than that – they are a court-issued document which grants you the actual power to act on behalf of the estate and proceed in probate. Letters are an important document as they state that an individual is the personal representative in the estate and has the court-granted authority to act as such.

How Do Letters Relate to Probate?

In California, if someone passes away without a trust, their estate will have to go through a legal process called “probate.” Probate is the court procedure in which a decedent’s assets and debts are accounted for and properly administered and disposed of. As part of this procedure, the probate Court will appoint a “Personal Representative” to act on behalf of the decedent and their estate.

The Personal Representative (sometimes referred to as the “Executor” or “Administrator” depending on the circumstances) is the individual responsible for collecting, accounting for, and distributing a decedent’s estate. To be appointed, you will need to petition the Court to act, and a hearing will be held determining your eligibility to proceed through probate in this capacity. 

After the appointment hearing, the Court will enter an Order which names you as the Personal Representative of the estate. However, being officially appointed as a Personal Representative is only the first, small step in the probate process. In order to actually conduct business on behalf of the estate, you will need “Letters” to carry out the estate’s affairs. 

Letters Testamentary vs. Letters of Administration

If the decedent passed with a will, then the Court will grant “Letters Testamentary” to the Executor. Letters Testamentary is a Court issued document which allows the Executor to act in accordance with the terms of the decedent’s will by marshaling the decedent’s assets and distributing them to the heirs designated under the will.

If the decedent passed away without a will, then the Administrator will need “Letters of Administration” to proceed in collecting the decedent’s assets, closing their accounts out, and distributing their assets to their family. Letters of Administration are essentially the same as Letters Testamentary. It is still a document issued by the Court which grants the personal representative the power to act on behalf of the estate. The major difference here is that instead of the powers being derived from the will, the powers are granted in accordance with statutory state law.

Why Letters of Administration are Integral to Probate

As previously mentioned, when you are appointed as the personal representative in a probate matter, you will be required to collect the decedent’s assets, pay their expenses, administer and manage their estate, close their financial accounts, and distribute their assets to their heirs. In order to actually carry out these affairs and have the authority to speak to different parties on behalf of the estate, you will need Letters. Because Letters grant you the actual power to act in probate, you will not be able to conduct any estate business without this document. You can open a probate, and be appointed as personal representative, but you will not be able to actually move forward in administering the estate without Letters.

When Are Letters Issued by the Court?

Unfortunately, in order to receive powers via Letters, you will have to go through the initial probate process. This means you will need to first file the Petition for Probate with the local probate court, attend an appointment hearing, be appointed as the personal representative, post bond in the matter, and sign documents showing you are aware of all of the duties and liabilities of a personal representative. Only after these steps are taken are Letters granted and issued by the Court. Currently, because of delays with respect to COVID-19, this process can take nearly three months or more. Therefore, it is important to remain patient and understand that not much business can be conducted in the probate matter until you receive this document.

Get Help From an Experienced Probate Attorney

Navigating the probate process alone can be difficult. There are many small steps and precise details you will need to attend to. It is hard to know the correct documents that need to be filed in the Court and the timeline to do so. Thus, it is not advisable to proceed in probate without the guidance of an attorney. Hiring an attorney to help you get appointed and carry out the estate’s affairs will ensure the probate process is conducted properly and expediently.

At Aliav Law we are keenly experienced with all aspects of probate. We understand how difficult and cumbersome this process can be, especially if you are still grieving the loss of a loved one and are having to deal with family members and financial institutions. Contact our office at (310) 800-2911 to learn exactly how we can help you with all steps of the probate process.