Letters of Administration: What They Are and How to Get Them

Obtaining letters of administration is often one of the first steps in managing a person's estate after they die.
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Letters of administration are court documents giving someone permission or authority to administer the estate of someone who died without a will or without naming a proper executor of their estate. Letters of administration allow the administrator to access, manage and distribute the deceased person’s accounts and property.

How letters of administration work

Letters of administration typically come from a probate court, which handles intestate estates (ones in which no valid will exists) or estates for which the chosen executor isn’t able to perform their duties

Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. Letters of administration. Accessed Jul 12, 2023.

State next of kin laws usually determine who the court chooses to be the administrator

New York City Bar Legal Referral Service. Estate Administration. Accessed Jul 12, 2023.
.

If you’re the next of kin to someone who died without a valid will — and all or some of their assets weren’t bequeathed via a trust, payable on death (POD) account, joint tenancy or other valid avenue for assets to pass to beneficiaries without probate — you’ll need to get letters of administration to close your loved one’s estate.

🤓Nerdy Tip

When someone dies intestate (or without a valid executor in their will), the estate typically remains frozen until letters of administration are in place.

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Letters of administration vs. letters testamentary

The main difference between letters of administration and letters testamentary is who's being appointed. Letters of administration appoint an administrator when there’s no valid will (or no valid executor), but letters testamentary approve the executor named in a valid will

Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. Letters testamentary. Accessed Jul 12, 2023.
. Both are legal probate court documents that allow someone to manage and close an estate after someone dies.

How to get letters of administration

1. Obtain all the necessary documents

It’s best to contact the probate court for specific requirements, but the necessary documents typically include:

  • A death certificate for the person who died.

  • Copies of all of the deceased’s property titles, such as car titles or home deeds.

  • Proof of the deceased’s insurance policies.

  • Statements or other proof of the deceased’s financial accounts, such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts and retirement accounts.

  • Statements or other proof of the deceased’s loans and other debts.

  • Names and addresses of next of kin.

  • Any other documents required in the specific state where the deceased lived.

2. Touch base with other relatives

Notify relatives who are possible heirs that the death occurred. Gather from them any additional financial information they may have that would be helpful in organizing the estate.

3. File an application for letters of administration

To be appointed administrator, you’ll likely need to be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and in most states, not have a felony criminal record

Civil Law Self-Help Center. Special Administrators. Accessed Jul 12, 2023.
. You may be able to find the proper forms online, but you’ll likely have to file them in person at a probate court.

4. Appear in court for verification

In order to complete the process, you’ll need to have everything validated and approved by the court. After the judge verifies the information you’ve gathered and confirms your eligibility to become administrator of the estate, the court will provide the letter of administration. You can present this document to financial institutions and other parties to prove that you have legal authority to manage the estate and distribute assets per your state laws.

How long does it take to get letters of administration?

In general, it takes about six to eight weeks to get letters of administration, provided the application is properly filed and includes the required documentation. A number of circumstances can delay this process, such as:

  • Errors in the application.

  • Disagreements about who should be the estate administrator.

  • Missing information or documentation.

Because this process takes time under the smoothest of circumstances, apply for letters of administration as soon as possible after a death occurs.

Once you have letters of administration and are appointed administrator, you can take action to pay off the estate’s debts, sell property to liquidate assets and distribute assets to all eligible heirs.

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