What Is a Letter of Testamentary and Do You Need One?

Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you may be wondering how to proceed with their estate. While there’s no need to worry, there are some important details you’ll want to understand. One of the most important is what happens when it comes time to administer an estate. In this article, we’ll reply to exactly this question: what is a letter of testamentary and do you need one? This way you can begin processing your loved one’s affairs as quickly as possible.

What is a letter of testamentary?

A letter of testamentary is a legal document that allows an executor to carry out the wishes of the deceased person. You may need a letter of administration instead, which we’ll discuss below.

What does it mean to be an executor?

The executor is the person who handles your estate after you pass away. They must follow the instructions in your will and are responsible for paying off debts and taxes. They’re also distributing assets according to your wishes while keeping an eye on everything else that’s relevant.

To become an executor, a court has to appoint you or a loved one has to name you as such in their will. In most cases, it’s easier to appoint someone who is close enough to handle things.

Who has the authority to grant letters of testamentary?

Only probate courts may grant letters of testamentary. The person who can apply for them is the executor, who is usually part of a will.

How can you apply for letters testamentary?

You can apply for letters testamentary by filing a petition with the court. The petition must include:

  • The name and address of the person who is to be the executor.
  • Valid ID.
  • A declaration that you are qualified to act as an executor; and
  • Any other matter that may be required by state law.

How much does a letter of testamentary usually cost?

The cost of a letter of testamentary varies depending on where you live, but tends to be quite affordable. You can expect to pay between $20 and $100 for the document itself.

However, you may also be have to pay additional fees when filing your documents with the court. These will vary considerably depending on where you live. This generally tends to be more expensive.

Steps for applying for letters of testamentary

The basic steps are the three following: a) find out if there is a will; b) contact the court and; c) file your paperwork. Let’s have a look at each step.

Find out if there is a will

The first thing to do is find out if there is a will. If there isn’t one and you’re the only beneficiary, then you’ll need to apply for probate (this process is explained in more detail below). If there is a will and it’s validly executed, then the court will appoint someone to administer the estate according to its terms. The executor of the estate’s powers are set out in the last will and testament itself.

Contact the court

To begin the process of getting your letters of testamentary, contact the probate court where you are applying. Once you find out where to go to apply for letters of testamentary, call ahead. It’s a good idea to ask how long it will take for them to issue them. As with all legal documents, there can be variability depending on each county’s backlog or any other circumstances that may arise.

File your paperwork

Once you have the Court Order for Letters of Testamentary, you can file your paperwork with the court. You may also need to:

  • File the Petition for letters of testamentary (or letters of Administration).
  • File the Order for Letters of Testamentary (or letters of Administration).
  • File the Request for an Inventory and Appraisement.

Serve notice and present your case

This is a bonus step, consider this a reminder! The executor must give notice to the heirs in order to have the authority to administer the estate. They also present their case at a hearing before a probate court judge. The court then asks questions about the decedent’s assets and debts

Letters of administration vs. letters of testamentary

In simple words, you use letters of administration when there is no person with authority to administer the estate. This includes situations where there is no will or:

  • The deceased has left behind a will, but it doesn’t include any executor and/or alternate executor(s).
  • Or, the will names someone who has died before the testator.
  • Alternatively, the executors and alternate executors of the will refuse to act as such.

Do I need a letter of testamentary for a trust too?

A trust does not require a letter of testamentary. Trusts are also end-of-life documents but they aren’t the same as wills. After all, most trusts avoid the probate process altogether. This is why some people prefer having a trust besides their will.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, a letter of testamentary or letters of administration are legal documents. A probate court grants them. This gives the executor or administrator the legal status to administer an estate. If you are the executor of a will you’ll need to apply for a letter of testamentary. The make sure to follow the steps outlined in this article. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for help and do your own research online.

Myend offers the perfect estate and end-of-life planning for all! Regardless of whether you need a will or a trust for your children, we have just the document for you. Have a look here to learn more. And if you’re ready for action, sign up today for your free account! The estate planning of the future is here today.

Navigating Terminal Illness

Download our Guide with 10 tips for those dealing with a terminal illness, or for loved ones supporting someone who is terminally ill.

Free End of Life planner

Sign up to receive our free checklist to help you get started with your End of Life Plan
Previous slide
Next slide

Organize, store, and share all the life-essential information in one place.


Myend is not a law firm, it does not engage in the practice of law, and it does not render any official legal advice. Therefore, you are hereby advised to seek your own legal counsel regarding any legal issues. Myend’s articles are meant to be taken as suggestions and therefore Myend carries no responsibility for the user’s actions.