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** This article has been revised from its original version which was published on June 24, 2019
Sometimes when a loved one passes away, an individual who believes they inherited assets from the decedent will be told at a bank or financial institution that they need “Letters Testamentary” in order to collect those assets. The question most people ask their NY estate lawyer is, “What are Letters Testamentary?”
Letters Testamentary is the name for a document issued by the Surrogate’s Court that permits the executor of an estate to act on behalf of a person who died with a will. The person who is nominated as the executor of the will can’t begin settling an estate until it is probated by the Surrogate’s Court and Letters Testamentary are issued according to estate law.
Petitioning the Court
In order to obtain Letters Testamentary, an interested party (typically the nominated executor under the will) must petition the Surrogate’s Court and provide pertinent information regarding the decedent, relevant parties (spouse, children, etc.), and the decedent’s assets.
Letters Testamentary can provide the executor (or Co-Executors) with full authorities allowed under the terms of the will and estate law, or they can be restricted at the court’s discretion. Typically if the court grants “full” Letters Testamentary, the executor is authorized to handle all the affairs of the estate as outlined in the terms of the will.
Settling an Estate
The Executor will be able to use the Letters Testamentary to handle the affairs of the estate, such as:
- Obtain a necessary tax identification number for the estate
- Collect estate assets
- Establish estate bank or brokerage accounts
- Retitle or sell property
- Pay for administrative expenses
- Pay debts and liabilities subject to the terms of the will
- Distribute the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries according to the will
- And more
Although Letters Testamentary will allow you to handle the affairs of the estate, you will not be able to use the Letters Testamentary to collect assets that passed outside of the estate. A common example is when a decedent had a bank account that was held jointly with rights of survivorship with another person. The funds in that account automatically pass to the surviving joint owner (regardless of what the will states), and therefore the Executor will not have authority to collect those assets despite having the Letters Testamentary issued to them. A NY estate lawyer or probate attorney can explain other scenarios that pass outside of probate and how to avoid the Surrogate’s Court altogether.
If you have been appointed an executor or have been asked to provide Letters Testamentary, consult with the experienced estate planning lawyers and probate attorneys at Russo Law Group, P.C. We can guide you through the Surrogate’s Court process so beneficiaries can inherit quickly. Contact us or take advantage of our free seminars and webinars to learn more about how Russo Law Group, P.C., may assist you with estate settlement.