Probate Fundamentals – What Are Letters of Office?

Despite its name, “Letters of Office” are not really a letter. Instead, the Letters of Office are a one-page official certified document issued by a probate court after a probate estate has been opened. Letters of Office cannot be obtained without first opening a probate estate. Upon entry of an order by the Court, the Letters of Office will be issued and signed by the Clerk of Court.

There are 3 basic versions of “Letters” for decedent’s estates:

• “Letters of Office” (also called “Letters Testamentary”) – issued to appointed executor when the executor is designated under a valid Will;

• “Letters of Administration” — issued to administrator when the decedent died without a valid Will (intestate estate);

• “Letters of Administration with Will Annexed” — issued to administrator when the person or entity appointed by the court as representative was not named as executor in the Will (e.g. when the designated executor is deceased).

The basic idea behind Letters of Office is that they serve to inform third
parties (e.g. financial institutions, creditors, etc.) that someone has official authority to act on behalf of the decedent’s probate estate. The Letters of Office will tell those third parties:

1. Decedent’s name;
2. Probate venue (i.e. county court);
3. Probate case number;
4. Name of the executor(s) or administrator(s);
5. Official capacity of the representative (i.e. executor/administrator and whether there is independent or supervised administration);
6. Date of death;
7. Date letters obtained.

The clerk’s office will issue one original Letters of Office to the representative after the estate is opened. This should be reviewed carefully for accuracy. The representative can then order from the court clerk’s office as many certified copies as are necessary to present to everyone who will need to see the document (e.g. banks, transfer agents, title companies, etc.). These official copies are typically only valid for up to 60 days after issuance. After they expire, as long as the estate is still open, additional copies can be obtained from the clerk as needed.