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New York Letters of Administration. What they are and how to get them.

New York Letters of Administration is a document issued by the Surrogate’s Court that enables you to act on behalf of the estate of a person who died without a will.

Here is a redacted image of New York letters of administration obtained by our law firm:

New York Letters of Administration

Letters of Administration is not a letter

The document, Letters of Administration, is not a letter in the common sense of the word. In legal usage, the word “letters” means something along the lines of “Mandate, Authorization and Order.”

What follows is that a lawyer cannot issue letters of administration for you. The only thing a lawyer can do is to represent you in the process of obtaining the Letters of Administration from the court.

If you are looking for an attorney, you can send us an email at attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com or call us at 718-509-9774 and we will be able to represent you in getting Letters of Administration in New York.

How to get New York Letters of Administration

To get letters of administration, you will need your attorney to apply through the Surrogate’s Court. Your attorney will need to submit the appropriate documents, which may include:

  • Petition for Administration of estate
  • Oath and Designation
  • Certified copy of death certificate
  • Copy of the funeral bill
  • Waiver, Renunciation, and Consent
    • This is executed by the distributees, the persons entitled to inherit from the decedent under EPTL § 4-1.1. IF the distributees do not sign this document, the court will issue a citation.
  • Citations
    • This is an order issued by the Surrogate’s Court directing the person to appear to show cause why letters should not be granted to the petitioner. This is issued to those distributees who do not execute waivers.
  • Notices
    • Given to those distributees who do not execute waivers.
  • Affidavit of sole heirship
    • Executed by a disinterested person when the decedent was survived by no heir, one heir, or where the surviving heirs are related to the decedent through a person who is also deceased
    • Includes family tree chart
  • Affidavit of due diligence
  • Other documents

Through the process called estate administration, the court will verify that you are the closest living relative. The court will also make sure that you are the relative with the priority to be appointed the estate administrator.

The Surrogate’s Court will hold a hearing where the judge will consider your candidacy for the Letters of Administration.

How long does it take to get Letters of Administration?

It typically takes a few months to get letters of administration in New York. If someone is contesting your right to become the estate administrator, then getting letters of administration can take years.

It is possible for the court to deny your application for letters of administration altogether, with either the challenger or the public administrator getting the letters instead.

Because of budget cuts and delays, we’ve seen longer wait times for getting letters of administration throughout the court system.

Who can petition to get New York Letters of Administration

Because the person died without a will, the person was not able to nominate who he wanted to administer his estate after his death. For this reason, the law provides for who can administer the estate of the decedent if the decedent dies without a will. Typically, it is the closest living relative, such as the surviving spouse, the children, the grandchildren, and the parents. Through the process called estate administration, the court will verify that you are the closest living relative. The court will also make sure that you are the relative with the priority to be appointed the estate administrator.

Under EPTL § 1001, the order of priority for granting letters of administration are:

(a) the surviving spouse

(b) the children

(c) the grandchildren

(d) the father or mother

(e) the brothers or sisters

(f) any other persons who are distributees and who are eligible and qualify, preference being given to the person entitled to the largest share in the estate.

Because of this priority, the presence of a class precludes the others from filing the petition. For example, if the spouse survives the decedent, the spouse is given preference in being appointed as administrator over the children, unless the spouse is not qualified. The presence of the children precludes the parents from being issued letters of administration.

The court issues Letters of Administration to appoint you as the administrator of an estate of someone who died. You can only be an administrator if you are related to the person who died.

If someone died and no one stepped forward to be the administrator of their estate, then the Public Administrator of the relevant county is granted Letters of Administration by the court.

We have encountered situations where a sibling would misrepresent in his petition for administration that the decedent had no children, in order for the sibling to be granted Letters of Administration. When this happens, you can consult with a lawyer who can help you file a temporary restraining order to restrain the appointed administrator from managing the estate, a petition to remove the administrator, and a petition to appoint you as administrator.

Responsibilities of the administrator

New York letters of administration authorize you to act as a representative of an estate. It allows you to perform the responsibilities for administering the estate.

Here are some of the things you can do once you are appointed as an administrator of an estate by Letters of Administration issued by the Surrogate’s Court:

  • Obtain a tax id number for an estate from the federal government
  • Open an estate bank account
  • Request information from banks and other institutions that control the decedent’s assets.
  • The banks will comply if you show them the Letters of Administration and the death certificate
  • Transfer assets from the decedent’s name to the name of the estate
  • Pay debts of the decedent
  • Collect claims of the decedent
  • Marshal assets of the estate
  • Distribute the estate assets to the beneficiaries of the estate, after obtaining proper waivers or providing an accounting

These things would be impossible to do without New York Letters of Administration. The banks will not give you information and will not transfer the money in the accounts; the county recorder will not record property deeds, and a buyer will not buy a property from you.

You often need more than one certified copy, since each bank and government agency would require an original. Also, since some institutions require a more official-looking document, the court can issue a Certificate of Appointment of Administrator. It’s printed on watermarked blue paper and looks similar to a death certificate, birth certificate, or marriage certificate.

Here is a redacted image of a Certificate of Appointment of Administrator obtained by our law firm:

New York Certificate of Appointment of Administrator

Ancillary Letters of Administration

When a decedent dies in a different state but left property in New York, the administrator who has been granted letters of administration from another state needs to file a petition for ancillary letters of administration in the county of the New York Surrogate’s Court where the property is located.

The court will grant you Ancillary Letters of Administration by verifying out-of-state Letters of Administration through a New York ancillary administration proceeding.

Limited Letters of Administration

Limited letters of administration may also be issued by the court to perform limited functions, such as initiating a lawsuit, investigating estate assets, or initiating discovery and turnover proceedings of assets of the deceased that are in the hands of a third person. Limited letters can also be issued even when there is already an administrator or executor appointed by the court, especially when the purpose is to investigate an executor’s self-dealing activities that might be considered unfair or fraudulent, or when you want to investigate conversion or theft of assets.

Temporary Letters of Administration

Temporary letters of administration expire every six months and are issued when there is an anticipated delay in the issuance of full letters of administration and there is a need to take action in order to protect the interests of the estate. For example, when it will take time to acquire jurisdiction over all necessary parties, when not everyone signs waivers and consents, when one is trying to probate a copy of a lost will, or when the nominated executor renounces or is incompetent or unqualified to serve, the court may issue temporary letters to protect the estate. It is also issued in cases of an absentee person (a person who has disappeared but has left property in the state).

Other types of “letters”

Letters of Administration are different from other types of “letters,” or court orders.

Letters Testamentary (issued the nominated executor when a person died with a will) and Voluntary Letters of Administration (issued to the voluntary administrator when a person dies with a small estate, whether or not the person died with a will).

Knowing what kind of letters to request from the court is important because filing the wrong petition can delay your access to the estate.

If the person died with a will, the personal representative is called an executor. If the person died without a will, the personal representative is called an administrator. If the person died with a small estate, regardless of whether he had a will or not, the personal representative is called a Voluntary Administrator.

Fiduciary duty

The administrator is a fiduciary who has a duty to always act in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. If the administrator acts with conflict of interest or self-interest, the beneficiaries can have the administrator removed, and the administrator can be liable for damages.

If you would like legal representation in obtaining Letters of Administration, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com.


NY SCPA Article 10

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