Whether a person creates a will or not, her estate must be administered after her death. In either case, the court appoints someone to navigate the estate through probate and gives that person a legal document to prove her status; this document is known as letters testamentary if there is a will, and a letter of administration, if there is not.
Appointment of Executor
Many people writing a will specify who they want to be the executor to administer their estate. Generally, courts approve the person named in the will as executor, and if no executor is named, the court appoints one. The probate court issues letters testamentary to the executor to show that he has legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.
Appointing an Administrator
When the deceased leaves no will, the court appoints someone to administer the estate, called an administrator. His duties are similar to those of an executor, but the document the court issues in this case is a letter of administration. In the absence of a will, the deceased's property passes to close relatives according to the state's intestate laws.
Read More: How to be Assigned as an Estate Administrator
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.