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What is a Executor Letter?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated May 16, 2024
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An executor letter is signed by a judge and issued by a probate court clerk, indicating that a person or organization is authorized to act on behalf of a decedent’s estate as an executor. It’s also called "letters of testamentary" or "letters of administration" in some jurisdictions. The court has to approve the executor named in the will, and upon doing so, the judge will often issue an executor letter. It’s often necessary to present the letter to banks and other institutions before they will transfer assets to the executor on behalf of the estate and for the executor to take control of the estate while in probate. If the decedent dies intestate, with no will or without a valid will, then the court may appoint an administrator who is responsible for the same duties and responsibilities as an executor.

A probate proceeding is often necessary for an estate that is valued over a certain amount according to regional laws and for property that is not jointly owned with a right of survivorship. The executor is often the one to approach the probate court with a copy of the will and the decedent’s death certificate. Upon examination of the will and certificate, a probate judge will issue an executor letter if the executor has posted the required bond. The executor may also have to obtain a surety from a third party, for which the estate often pays. Some jurisdictions require no bond, or may honor a bond waiver provided in the will.

Relatives may also apply to the court for an executor letter, especially when the value of the estate is small. A court proceeding is not required for smaller estates in many jurisdictions. The court clerk often issues the letter without the judge in those circumstances.

Obtaining an executor letter is the key to managing the financial affairs of the estate. One of the duties of the executor is to open a bank account in his own name and to transfer monies from the decedent’s bank accounts into it. A bank will only release funds if the executor can present an executor letter, which is proof that this person has the authority to transfer the funds. The executor may also decide to change the name on other accounts or assets owned by the estate, but for liability reasons, the institutions or individuals holding those accounts or assets will often require an executor letter before making a change. Various governmental agencies often require a letter of this kind in order to release funds or issue a taxpayer identification number to the executor as well.

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