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Houston Estate Planning and Probate Blog

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What are Letters Testamentary?

What are Letters Testamentary?

An individual who has been named as a "Personal Representative" or "Executor" in a will has a number of important duties. Probate is the court process in which the duly appointed Executor is given the authority to transfer the deceased person's property in accordance with a Will. The Executor, after qualifying as such, is given Letters Testamentary ("Letters") that give him or her the legal authority to administer the deceased person's estate.

While the process varies from state to state, the Executor must apply and file the original Will with the probate court in the county in which the decedent lived. Some county probate courts will allow you to represent yourself, whereas others require you to retain the services of a licensed attorney.

The probate court will then hold a hearing to verify that Will is valid and the individual applying to be appointed as Executor meets the qualifications to act as Executor. Generally the Executor should be appointed within the deceased person's Will and must be a mentally competent adult and not be a convicted felon. If approved, the court will issue Letters to the duly qualified Executor and officially open probate.

In short, the Letters give the Executor authority to act on behalf of the estate and follow the directives in the Will. The Executor may need to obtain multiple certified copies of the Letters which he or she can order from the Porbate Clerk.  As Executor, the individual then has the fiduciary responsiblility t carry out his or her other duties such as inventorying and appraising assets, preserving and protecting the assets,  paying debts, and transferring property to beneficiaries, according to the terms of the decedent's Will.

What are Letters of Administration?

In the event a person dies without a valid Will in place, an heir of the decedent, typically a legal relative, may need to petition the probate court for Letters of Administration. The process is similar to that of probating a valid Will in that the court will hold a hearing to appoint this individual to act as the Independent Administrator.  In the case when minor beneficiaries are involved, a Dependent Administration is opened which requires court supervision over the beneficiaries' assets and the probate proceeding.  The Administrator manages and distributes the assets according to the state's intestacy laws.


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