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What Are Letters Testamentary?

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What does Letters Testamentary mean? And why is it not Letters OF Testamentary? This term may seem foreign to you, but it’s actually one of the more basic estate planning documents. As for the latter question, I really don’t know why it’s not Letters OF Testamentary. I guess attorneys just want to make things difficult.

Letters Testamentary/Letters of Administration: What Is It?

Letters Testamentary, similar to Letters of Administration, is a probate Court-issued document that authorizes a person to act as an Executor or Administrator of an estate. This Court Order gives the executor the authority to distribute the estate appropriately pursuant to the decedent’s wishes. Letters Testamentary are issued by the Court when there is a valid Will. Letters of Administration are issued by the Court when there is NO Will or if there is a Will, but it has a defect in it. Letters of Administration provide similar authority as Letters Testamentary. Letters Testamentary is basically a Court order blessing the Executor to handle the business of the deceased.

Who Needs It and Why?

Letters Testamentary are needed by anyone who is trying to settle a decedent’s estate, which can include paying the decedent’s creditors and distributing the estate’s assets to heirs and beneficiaries. For example, if someone dies leaving money in their bank account without a beneficiary designation, the bank will not release the funds from the account without Letters Testamentary. Again, these Letters are issued by a Court order which gives the Executor or Administrator the authority to control the estate’s assets, and the bank may then act upon the Executor’s instructions. Another example would be; what happens to a decedent’s residence when they die? If a decedent had a Will and the home was to be passed to beneficiaries, Letters Testamentary would provide the Executor the authority to transfer the property in accordance with the Will’s instructions. Or, if the Will specified that the home was to be sold and the proceeds distributed to the beneficiaries named in the Will, Letters Testamentary would provide authority to sell the property and distribute the proceeds.

How To Obtain Letters Testamentary in Texas

To obtain Letters Testamentary in Texas, an eligible person must apply to the appropriate probate Court, which is the county in which the decedent resided upon their passing. In order to petition the Court, an application to probate must be submitted, along with the original Will of the deceased, within four years from the date of death. There are several additional steps that the probate attorney typically handles; these steps can include proving that the Will is the original and final Will of the deceased, posting notice of the probate for 10 days (this notice period allows anyone who wishes to contest the Will to come forward; if no one contests the Will, the matter can move forward with a hearing), attend a hearing in Probate Court, provide notice to Creditors, provide an Inventory to the Court, and send notice to the beneficiaries, among other steps that may be needed particular to the situation.

The time it takes to obtain Letters Testamentary in Texas varies depending on the accuracy and completeness of the Will that is submitted to Probate Court, the Court’s availability, and the complexity of the estate administration. Fortunately, Texas has a very efficient probate process. If you have a valid Will, Letters Testamentary are usually easily obtainable, if you have an experienced probate attorney.

Paul B. Owens is an attorney practicing in the areas of Probate and Estate Planning law. He serves in a number of other capacities, including on the Board of Directors for the CASA Helotes Senior Center in Helotes Texas. He can be reached at his office in Helotes at 210-695-5110 or at