When a loved one dies, there are many things that need to be taken care of. One of those is dealing with the deceased person’s estate. Dealing with an estate can be difficult and confusing. Many steps need to be taken, and it can be hard to know where to start.

If you’re looking for information about Letters of Testamentary, here are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic.

What are letters of testamentary?

Many clients call our office inquiring if we prepare letters testamentary. Most of the time, these inquiries are from folks who have recently lost a friend or loved one and are attempting to access their bank accounts or other financial investments. Does this sound familiar? When a financial institution says that they require a letter testamentary or letters testamentary, what they are actually saying is that you are required to go through probate to access the account(s). For some reason, financial institutions, in my experience, never tell potential clients that probate is required to access funds. To be clear, the court issues letters testamentary to a personal representative who has petitioned the court to open probate and to be appointed as a personal representative. That process in its entirety is referred to as probate. The “proof” that financial institutions require showing that probate has been opened and that a personal representative has been officially appointed are letters testamentary. The document itself, despite the name, is basically a one or two-page document that is signed, notarized, and sealed by the clerk of the Superior Court, verifying that probate is open and that the person named has authority to act on behalf of the estate as the personal representative.

Financial institutions are in a difficult position because, on the one hand, they do not have the authority to provide legal advice – on the other hand, they need to provide enough information to let folks know what they require to access a decedent’s account. Unfortunately, telling anyone who inquires after an account of a decedent (who is not specifically named as a payable on death beneficiary or a transfer on death beneficiary) that they are required to get letters testamentary to access the account is not correct in every instance. For example, estates that have less than $100,000 in personal property and do not include real estate can use a small estate affidavit procedure that would not require opening probate to acquire letters testamentary.

Why would you need a letter of testamentary?

When a person dies, their estate must go through the probate process before it can be inherited by their beneficiaries. Probate is the legal process of proving the validity of a will and distributing the deceased’s assets. If the deceased left a will, the executor named in the will is responsible for handling the probate process. However, if the deceased did not leave a will, the court will appoint an administrator to oversee the probate. In either case, the individuals responsible for handling probate may need to obtain a letter of testamentary. A letter of testamentary is a document issued by a court that gives an individual the legal authority to handle someone’s estate. Without this document, an executor or administrator would not be able to access the deceased’s assets or take any actions on behalf of the estate. As such, obtaining a letter of testamentary is an essential step in handling probate for a deceased person’s estate.

What should you do if you get told you need to get letters of testamentary?

If you have been told that you need to get letters testamentary, please call our office, and we will explain what that means in your particular situation based on the account type and the amount involved. To be able to provide comprehensive information, you will also need to provide the account types and amounts of all assets that do not have joint ownership or beneficiary designation. These types of assets are known as “probate assets.” They have earned that name because probate is required to administer these types of assets. Examples of probate assets include a bank account that is not jointly owned, and that does not have a payable on death beneficiary named, a brokerage account without joint ownership and without a transfer on death beneficiary named; life insurance without a beneficiary named; real estate that is not jointly owned, owned by a trust, and that does not have a payable on death deed recorded with the County.

Salmon Creek Law Offices

The death of a loved one is always a difficult time, and the legal process of probate can be complicated and confusing. If you are facing the probate of a loved one’s estate, Vancouver, WA Probate Attorneys Trent Kunz and Marissa Bartolucci can help. At Salmon Creek Law Offices, we understand the challenges you are facing, and we will work with you to ensure that the probate process is as smooth and stress-free as possible. We offer a reduced hourly rate for initial consultations so that you can get the advice and direction you need without breaking the bank. Call us today to schedule your consultation. We’re here to help.

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