New York Letters Testamentary is a document issued by the Surrogate’s Court. It enables you to act on behalf of an estate of a person who died with a will. Before the court grants you Letters Testamentary, it will verify that you are named as the executor and that the will is valid.
The document is not a letter – it’s a court order. The confusion stems from the fact that Order used to be called Letter hundreds of years ago.
A lawyer cannot write letters testamentary for you, but a lawyer can help you obtain them from the court.
You cannot act as the executor until the court issues Letters Testamentary. Only then can you collect the assets of the estate, pay the estate’s debts and expenses and distribute the remainder to the estate’s beneficiaries.
Here is a redacted image of Letters Testamentary obtained by our law firm:
What is a Letter of Testamentary
Letters Testamentary authorize a person to act as a representative of an estate. They allow a person to perform responsibilities of an estate. Here are some of the things a person can do once they are appointed as an administrator of an estate by Letters Testamentary 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 Testamentary 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
Those things would be impossible to do without New York Letters Testamentary. The banks will not give you information and will not transfer the assets, the county recorder will not record property deeds, and a buyer will not buy a property from you.
You often need more than one, since each bank and government agency would require an original. Also, some institutions require a more official looking document. This is why the court can also issue a Certificate of Appointment of Executor, which is printed on a watermarked blue and red paper, and looks similar to a death certificate, birth certificate or marriage certificate.
Here is a redacted image of a Certificate of Appointment of Executor obtained by our law firm:
How to Get Letters Testamentary
In order to get letters testamentary, one would have to apply to the Surrogate’s Court of the county where the person who died resided. You would need your New York estate attorney help you get the documents together, such as the petition for probate, the original last will and testament of the decedent, the original death certificate, a copy if the funeral bill, as well as other documents such as waivers, citation, proposed order, affidavit of heirship, family tree, due diligence, etc., and appear in court on your behalf.
Even if the decedent died in a different state, and you have Letters Testamentary from that state, you will still need to obtain separate Letters Testamentary in New York, by verifying out-of-state Letters Testamentary through a New York ancillary probate proceeding.
Letters Testamentary are issued when a person died with a will, to a person who applies and is appointed by the court as the administrator of a deceased person’s estate. A person can only be an executor of an estate if they are nominated by the will of the person who died and are otherwise qualified – are over the age of 18 and are not a convicted felon.
How Long Does it Take to Get Letters Testamentary
It typically takes a few months to get letters testamentary. If the probate is contested, i.e. if someone is challenging the will, then getting letters testamentary can take years, or they can be potentially denied altogether. Although getting the letters is only one of the steps of the New York probate process, it is the most important step.
If the person who died did not leave a will, the document will be similar and with similar powers, but it will be called “Letters of Administration,” and the Certificate will be called “Certificate of the Appointment of Administrator.”
Do Letters Testamentary expire in New York? It depends on the text. If the document does not specify that it expires, then it does not expire.
Call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233, New York estate, guardianship, wills, trust, medicaid and probate lawyer, and make an appointment to discuss Letters Testamentary.
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