What are Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration?

Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration are documents issued by a Court with Jurisdiction over Probate cases. The letters evidence the authority of an individual to act on behalf of a particular estate.

What is the difference in Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration?

Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration serve the same purpose. The difference is in how the holder was named. A person named in a will to administer an estate is called an Executor or Executrix and is issued Letters Testamentary. (Executrix is the female form of Executor).

A person appointed by the Court to administer an estate is called an Administrator and is issued Letters of Administration. (The phrase “Probate Letters” is used in this article to refer to both types of letters.)

Otherwise, the two types of letters serve the same purpose and convey the same authority.

Why are Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration needed?

Letters are needed so that a third party dealing with property of the estate can be assured that the person that they are dealing with is authorized to act on behalf of the estate. A court makes a careful determination, after hearing evidence, before issuing Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration. A third-party can, therefore, rely on the Court’s determination that a particular individual is entitled to estate assets.

Can I receive property based on a copy of a will naming me as an heir?

A third party, such as a bank, cannot distribute property solely based on the fact that a person is named as an heir in a will. In order to rely on a will, there must be a determination that a person has passed away; that he or she executed the will prior to passing; that the will is valid under Texas law; that at the time of execution the person was competent and acting without coercion or duress; and that the will was not subsequently revoked or amended. For this reason, Probate Letters are required.

How do I obtain Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration?

Probate Letters are only issued by the Court after a hearing before the Court. An application must be filed with the Court; appropriate notices must be made to interested parties; a hearing scheduled; witnesses must appear and testify and the Court must make a final determination. After the hearing, certain additional documents must be filed and the administrator must take an oath of appointment.

There is no short-cut. The Clerk of the Court cannot issue Probate Letters upon request or the presentation of the will to the Clerk.

Can I obtain Probate Letters without an Attorney?

No, neither Letters Testamentary, nor Letters of Administration, can be obtained without an attorney. An experienced attorney is required in order to prepare the appropriate application; file with the Court the legal documents required prior to the hearing; draft an Appropriate Order; and to file the follow up documents required by the administrator or executor.

In addition, while an individual can represent themselves in Court as a pro-se litigant, they cannot represent an estate. Such conduct would run a foul of the Texas rules against practicing law without a license.

Do Probate Letters ever expire?

Probate letters are valid so long as the individual is still serving as the administrator or executor of the estate. Some third parties will require “updated” letters before recognizing an individual’s authority. This simply means that they wish to verify that the individual has not been removed from the position since the letters were issued. The clerk’s office will prepare updated letters showing that the administrator is in good standing as such with the Court.

Thank you for your interest in these articles. Please remember that these articles are designed to provide general legal information and may not apply to specific legal situations. Legal matters can be complicated by issues outside of the scope of our articles. Publishing these articles does not constitute legal advice on the part of Davis McCown, Attorney at Law. Neither review of any article, nor use of the information provided, constitutes an attorney/client relationship. It is recommended that all estate planning documents and decisions be discussed with a qualified attorney.