What Is a Letter of Testamentary?

A letter of testamentary gives the executor of the deceased's estate the authority to handle their financial affairs.
Lee Huffman
By Lee Huffman 
Published
Edited by Dalia Ramirez

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A letter of testamentary, also called “letters testamentary,” is an official court document granting an executor the authority to handle your estate when you die. An executor will pay final bills and distribute assets to your beneficiaries

Cornell Law School. Letters testamentary. Accessed Aug 17, 2023.
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Your state probate court will issue a letter of testamentary to the executor during the probate process. Here’s how much it costs and how to get one.

Who needs a letter of testamentary, and when?

“Testamentary” refers to something that takes effect after a person’s death. A court issues a letter of testamentary to an estate’s named executor to give them the legal authority to act as fiduciary for the estate and handle all financial affairs on behalf of the deceased.

For example, the executor provides a copy of the letter and a death certificate to banks, brokerage firms and other financial institutions and ensures that the deceased’s beneficiaries receive their assets.

If the person dies without a will, the probate court appoints someone to act on behalf of the estate with a document called a letter of administration

Cornell Law School. Letters of administration. Accessed Aug 17, 2023.
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How much does a letter of testamentary cost?

The cost for a letter of testamentary varies by state and whether you need help from an attorney. You can save money by filling out the paperwork yourself and filing it with the court without an attorney. Here’s an estimate of potential fees:

  • Filing fee. Courts generally charge filing fees when submitting documents for public record. Depending on your state or district, filing fees can range from $50 to $1,200.

  • Death certificates. There is a charge for each official copy of the death certificate. Typical charges are around $30 for the first copy, and some states have lower fees for additional copies.

  • Extra copies of the letter. Many institutions require an official copy of the letter of testamentary to process requests and keep for their records. The average cost of an official copy is $5 to $20 per letter.

  • Attorney fees. These vary based on location, experience and the complexity of the estate. Some attorneys charge a flat fee, while others have an hourly rate with an upfront retainer. For example, a simple estate may pay a flat fee of around $2,500, or $400 an hour or higher for more complex cases.

How do you get a letter of testamentary?

The process to get a letter of testamentary can vary by state. Typically, you’ll follow these steps:

  1. Get a copy of the official will. As the executor of the estate, you may already have a copy of the deceased’s will, or you’ll receive one from their beneficiaries or estate planning attorney.

  2. Obtain a death certificate. You’ll get a copy of the death certificate from the coroner or other local officials. Request multiple certified copies of the death certificate since you may need to mail official copies to different financial institutions at the same time.

  3. Request a letter of testamentary. Bring the documents to your city hall or local court to obtain a letter of testamentary. You may want to request multiple copies of the letter to give to the necessary institutions. Your state court may require you to fill out forms to verify your status as an executor.

  4. Pay court fees and costs. The court may charge filing or processing fees for your letter, plus a fee for each official copy of the letter.

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Frequently asked questions

A letter of testamentary is an official document granting the executor of a will the authority to act on behalf of the estate. A letter of administration provides similar authorization when the probate court names an executor for an estate without a will.

Testamentary indicates instructions for when a person has died, and a letter of testamentary grants someone the authority to act on behalf of the estate. Inter vivos is an agreement while you are alive. An inter vivos trust is also known as a living trust, which allows someone to manage their assets during their lifetime.

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