Letters testamentary, also called letters of administration, allow the executor of a will to act on behalf of the deceased's estate. They are similar to a power of attorney granted by the testator, or the person who left the will, to the person she has named as executor in her will. The court must approve this appointment and the executor must take an oath of office. Afterward, the executor receives her letters testamentary and is responsible for dissolving the deceased's estate.
Filing for Probate
As soon as he receives his letters testamentary, the executor must place the deceased's will with the probate court and fill out an application to enter it into probate. The court validates the will, or accepts that it is legitimate, and the executor can proceed to settle the estate.
Notification of Death
Some states require that the executor place a notice in the newspaper, advising the public of the testator's death. Almost all states require that a notice be posted to any unknown creditors that the deceased might have had. The executor may need to show her letters testamentary to the newspaper, because the letters authorize her to place these notices.
Inventory of Property
An executor is responsible for gathering up and securing all of the deceased's property until the estate can be settled. This often involves insuring certain items because he can be held personally responsible if something happens to them while they're in his safekeeping. He might need his letters testamentary for the insurance companies, because they authorize him to contract for the policies.
Handling of Creditors
When an executor notifies unknown creditors by publication, he must also send direct notice to any creditors he knows about, such as mortgage holders, automobile lenders and credit card companies. These debtors have a certain amount of time, which varies by state, to make a claim against the estate for the money the deceased owed. An executor has the authority to veto any of these claims if she thinks they are not legitimate, though a creditor can ask the court to overturn her decision. Letters testamentary provide the executor with proof that she has authorization to deny the claims.
Paying Costs of the Estate
An executor must pay all operating costs the estate incurs, such as the cost of the newspaper notices, as well as taxes and all debts she has determined are legitimate. Letters testamentary allow her to sign tax returns, both for the deceased and the estate, as well as checks from the estate's account.
After all expenses, debts and taxes are paid, the executor of an estate distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the deceased's will. If the will calls for cash bequests, she might have to liquidate certain assets to raise the money. Letters testamentary allow her to sell the estate's property, if necessary.