Getting a letter of testamentary is what you need to proceed in probate court. You will need to file a death certificate and a will with the county, then your official form requesting your letter.
As the executor of an estate, you must take care of all financial tasks before you can officially close out an estate and fulfill your duties. Just some of the major tasks you must tackle include paying off all debts from the estate, gathering assets, distributing assets as the will outlines, and notifying beneficiaries.
Before you can do any of these tasks, you need a letter of testamentary, which is a document you get from the probate court. It provides you with the proof that you are the executor for the estate, and it provides you with the authority you need to do your tasks as the executor.
What Is a Letter of Administration – Do I Need That, Too?
Some probate courts will refer to these letters as the letter of administration. This is a letter that is issued by probate court when an official executor is not named in the will, or there is no will and the estate is intestacy. In this case, the court decides who is qualified to handle the executor duties and will issue a letter of administration to that party.
Both documents give the executor the power to handle all estate matters, but the administration letter only allows the executor to distribute assets that abide by the laws of intestacy, which are different in New York than in other states.
How Do You Get a Letter of Testamentary?
If you are named as the executor and there is a will, then you will obtain the testamentary version of the letter. To do so, you will go to the county probate court.
You need a copy of the will that names you as the executor, a copy of the death certificate, and the court required letters of testamentary forms along with your application for the letter. You may also need to bring along identifying information to prove you are, in fact, the person named in that will.
After you have completed the application, you will file it with the court and wait for your hearing date. The hearing is usually brief, and the probate court judge will review the documents, verify that you are the executor, and also make sure you can carry out your executor duties. Usually, you must be mentally competent, which is the only requirement.
The court then issues you the letter of testamentary, and you will want to obtain certified copies. Most financial institutions will require a certified copy of the letter to keep for their records. Therefore, get one for each financial institution where you will need to remove or access assets.
Letters of Testamentary: Can They Expire?
These letters give you the legal authority to manage a person’s financial assets. Therefore, the court will require that you do so promptly and in accordance with the will. You must administer all financial tasks promptly, but the letters themselves do not expire. However, if you purposely fail to perform your fiduciary duty or the courts feel that you are taking longer than necessary to handle the deceased’s estate, you may have your letter revoked.
Once You Have the Letter, What Should You Do Next?
Now that you have the letter, you must follow through with your duties. Just some of those include:
Locating All Assets
The estate plan should have a list of assets, but it is your job to go to each financial institution, using your letter of testamentary, so that you can access those assets. You may need to have assets valuated if it has been too long.
Finding All Debts Due
Before you can distribute assets, you will need to use any funds from bank accounts to pay any outstanding debts first. You may also have to sell any assets or sell stocks so that you can satisfy those debts as well.
You are required to file the final tax return for the estate as well. And if you are working with an estate attorney, they can help you with this task.
The will should discuss how the assets will be distributed and which beneficiaries will receive what physical assets or amount of funds. You are required to follow the will, but there may be instances where you have to use your own judgment if the will is not specific. Other times, someone may leave requests such as leaving 25% of their estate to one child. After you have satisfied debts, then you would determine what is 25% of that remaining estate value.
It Is Best to Hire an Attorney When Administering an Estate
Trying to work your way through the intricacies of probate court, let alone your duties administering an estate, can be daunting. If you are unsure of where to start, consider hiring an estate attorney to assist you.
An attorney can help you with your executor duties, including filing the correct forms, working on estate taxes, and ensuring all assets are distributed correctly.
If you are creating an estate plan, consider setting aside funds so that you can pay for an attorney to help assist with the administration portion of your estate. Having an attorney is incredibly valuable. They will help you with each step and ensure you are following all state laws regarding how you probate an estate.
To get started, speak with an estate planning attorney here in New York by contacting the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. You can schedule a free, no obligation case evaluation now by calling the office. You can also request more information about assistance with your executor duties by completing an online contact form.