How to Get Letters of Administration in Probate

Death is never an easy subject. It’s made even more complicated by the many financial and logistical hurdles involved. For example, when a person dies, their heirs will eventually need to access funds held in the decedent’s bank accounts, transfer the decedent’s property, and pay any outstanding debts and taxes. This process may require a personal representative to get letters of administration in probate.

Let’s say an estate is going through the probate process. In that case, the court needs to appoint someone to act on behalf of the estate. This person is responsible for gathering the assets and property of the estate and settling all debts and taxes of the decedent.

The appointed representative then has to deal with different institutions. This can include banks, tax institutions, life insurance companies, financial institutions, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. But many of these institutions will refuse to speak to someone about the decedent’s funds without court issued “letters.” What are these letters, and how can you get your hands on them?

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Different Types of “Letters”

There are several different types of letters the court can issue in a case like this. First, let’s go over the terminology probate courts use to discuss the granting of letters. Keep in mind that the term “letters” doesn’t refer to an actual letter. Instead, it refers to a a court document that gives authority to the personal representative.

There are three different types of “Letters”:

  • “Letters of Administration” when there is no will;
  • “Letters of Testamentary” when there is a will; 
  • And finally, “Letters of Administration with Will Annexed” when there is a will, but the will failed to name an executor.

For this article, we will discuss how to get the first option: letters of administration in probate (when there is no will).

How to Get Letters of Administration in Probate

To get letters of administration, someone must petition the court to be named as personal representative of the estate. The court will then hold an initial probate hearing.

If the petition is in proper order and is approved, the court will formally grant the personal representative authority to act on behalf of the estate. Once the judge has signed the Order for Probate, the court clerk can issue formal letters of administration. This is just the first step in the California probate process.

Getting “Letters” May Require a Bond

Before the court will issue letters, the estate administrator may have to post a bond to protect the estate against mismanagement. However, there are times when a bond is not required.

For example, when there is a will, the bond requirement has often been waived by the decedent. If the will does not provide for a waiver of a bond, the heirs can ask the court to waive the bond requirement.

There are situations, however, when the court will require the personal representative to get a bond. This requirement is usually for personal representatives who live out of state. The court may require a bond for out-of-state personal representatives even if the heirs have waived bond or the will waives bond.

Getting “Letters” Requires Filing Probate

The court only allows someone to get letters of administration in probate in cases of a full probate procedure.  Many estates are settled through trust administration or through small estate procedures for California. In these situations, it will not be possible to get letters of administration.

Sometimes bank employees incorrectly tell people they need letters. The banks do this because their employees are merely following a bank’s procedures manual. Keep in mind, however, that bank employees are not lawyers and do not understand California probate law. If you have been told you need “letters” but the estate is worth less than $166,250, you may need to educate the bank employee about California probate law. Smaller estates often don’t need letters of administration at all.

If you do need to get letters of administration in probate, your first instinct may be to hire a lawyer. However, attorneys are very expensive and charge statutory fees that are based on the value of the estate. We have good news, though: you don’t need to hire an attorney to get letters of administration in probate. A People’s Choice can help you get letters of administration at a fraction of the cost an attorney will charge. Call us today at 800-747-2780 for immediate help.

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