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What Are Letters Testamentary? And why does the bank want yours?

When a loved one dies and you are trying to distribute the bank account or investment account, financial institutions often ask you for Letters Testamentary. “Letters” sounds simple, but what the financial institution is really telling you (often without realizing it themselves) is that you need to begin a probate of the deceased’s estate, before they will give you the money.

The probate of a will starts when a judge signs an order accepting that the offered will is the last valid will of the deceased. Letters Testamentary are what the clerk of the court issues ONLY after the superior court judge signs the order starting the probate.

Letters Testamentary identify who the Personal Representative of the deceased person’s will is, and list the Personal Representative’s authority in the probate with regard to the decedent’s estate.

After the Personal Representative obtains Letters Testamentary in the probate, he or she has access to the decedent’s assets to carry out the decedent’s wishes as expressed in the will and to organize financial matters in the probate.

Please see my article entitled “Probate – An Explanation,” on this website for more details about the probate process.

If the deceased did not have a will, the court process is called “Estate Administration.” Rather than Letters Testamentary, the clerk issues “Letters of Administration.” However, you have to proceed with most of the same steps as you do in a probate.

If you need help with a probate or estate administration, I will be happy to help you determine the easiest way to proceed.

Elizabeth A. Perry, a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, has been helping Clark County residents with their estate planning needs for over 20 years. Her practice emphasizes wills, trusts, probate and Medicaid planning. You are invited to call her to schedule an appointment or sign up for a class at (360) 816-2485. ©2016 Elizabeth A. Perry

(The above should not be construed as specific legal advice and is intended for general information purposes only)

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