• Ruth-Ann E. Toups

Letters Testamentary Are Much More Than a Letter

After the death of a loved one, people are often told by a bank or other financial institution that they need to obtain letters testamentary. The term letters testamentary can be a bit deceiving because letters testamentary are not simply letters that can be written by anyone, or even by an attorney. Letters testamentary, or more properly letter of testamentary, is a document issued by a probate court to show proof that a will has been probated. While it is true that this is a single piece of paper, that piece of paper takes a lot of work to obtain.

Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate. In simpler terms, probate allows a person (often called an executor) to step into someone’s shoes who has passed away and carry out any necessary business. The probate process is handled in a court. It is only after someone has gone through the probate process and been appointed as an executor or an administrator that they are entitled to receive letters testamentary.


Letters testamentary are only granted in certain types of probate. If an institution is requiring that you provide letters testamentary that is generally an indicator you may need to probate. However, sometimes an institution will accept other less expensive and time-consuming probate mechanisms. Because it is difficult to determine whether or not you need probate or what type of probate may be needed, it is important that you meet with an attorney. Each type of probate requires a different set of prerequisites, accordingly do-it-yourself legal work can result in an even more expensive and time-consuming process.

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