Sometimes, a loved one passes away with their assets tied up with banks and other agencies. However, upon attempting to recover these assets, the banks may ask you for letters of administration. At this point, many people ask themselves exactly what are letters of administration? However, they should also ask, do I really need letters of administration in California probate?

Often, clients contact our office because the bank has requested letters of administration (letters) before releasing a decedent’s funds. However, many people do not realize that they may not actually need letters. Instead, they may be able to use another type of proceeding or legal documentation. In fact, getting letters of administration for a very small estate is usually completely unnecessary.

Alternatives to Probate

First, in order to recognize when you do and don’t require letters, you must understand the California probate process. Luckily, California is one of many states that offers a variety of alternatives to settle an estate. For example, large estates over $166,250 often require a full probate to transfer assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. On the other hand, there are alternative proceedings for smaller estates with personal and/or real property valued under $166,250. More specifically, these alternative proceedings are called “small estate administration”.

California courts have rules to determine if an estate is eligible for small estate administration or a small estate affidavit. These rules depend on the type of assets the decedent owned and whether they exceed a specified threshold value. For example, California’s small estate administration requires that a decedent’s estate not exceed $166,250 in value and that more than 40 days have passed since the date of death.

How Probate Alternatives Affect Letters of Administration

Often, bank employees do not know the legal requirements to settle estates. Unfortunately, banks provide their employees with manuals, policies, and guidelines with a “one size fits all” mentality. Therefore, bank employees are not trained in the various nuances of California probate law. As a result, when they access their reference materials to determine how to deal with bank accounts with a deceased owner, they simply find instructions to ask for letters of administration or a court order. However, in reality, letters of administration are not always necessary or legally required to settle a decedent’s estate.

Therefore, everyone should educate themselves on these two important facts about settling an estate in California:

  1. The court only issues letters of administration in California’s full probate administration process.
  2. In many situations, an alternative small estate probate proceeding or non-court affidavit is the proper procedure for distributing bank funds.

What to Say When the Bank Asks For Letters

If the bank is requiring letters of administration to release funds, you need to assess whether this, in fact, is the only way to obtain them. To do this, consider the total value of the estate and what options California law offers to settle an estate of this value. Do NOT assume the bank employee understands California probate law. Unfortunately, you may need to educate the bank on your rights to settle the estate.

How to Get Letters of Administration and Other Legal Documents

That said, if you really do need letters of administration, contact A People’s Choice for low-cost, professional assistance. Alternatively, if you need help completing the necessary documentation for one of the alternative small estate administration proceedings, A People’s Choice can also help! Ultimately, if you are unsure what your options are, we will be happy to direct you to legal resources that will answer your questions. Call us at 800-747-2780 today to learn more.

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