What are Letters of Administration?
Letters of Administration are court orders granting authority to the person appointed as personal representative, to do all things necessary to administer a decedent’s estate. Letters are typically only issued in a formal administration of an estate which is initiated by a Petition for Administration. Once received, a personal representative may present the Letters to any financial institution or other entity as a license to act on behalf of an estate.
Does the bank really need Letters of Administration?
One of the most frequent questions I field goes something like this:
“The bank needs Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary in order to release the money. How do I get these Letters?”
The short answer is “formal administration,” a process that takes a minimum of 6 months and averages 9-12 months.
My knee jerk reaction to this question is always: “Are you sure you need Letters of Administration?”
Even though Letters of Administration might not be necessary, some type of probate court order is still probably required.Very often, Letters of Administration (often referred to as Letters Testamentary in other states) are wholly unnecessary – and because you can only secure such Letters in formal administration (a longer, costlier process), you may be subjecting yourself to a process which we jokingly refer to as “probate overkill.”
Banks don’t really understand probate
Banks have manuals, policies and guidelines that can make accessing funds of the deceased rather difficult. While this may seem like an unnecessary imposition, it’s understandable that the bank is trying to shield itself from any liabilities.
My point is, bank employees don’t always know what they need. Letters of Administration may be necessary, but in smaller estates (>75,000), formal administration can be “probate overkill.” I don’t blame them – they aren’t expected to understand probate law.
They are simply referencing what the policy manuals and customer service wikis (a computer database that helps employees find answers to common questions) tell them to say whenever a customer says:
“Mom died and I need to access her checking account so I can pay for her funeral.”
All the bank teller heard was “mom died.” (followed by a suppressed panic attack)
In an instant, a manual or database is accessed to determine how to deal with bank accounts when the owner has died. The manual probably says “persistently ask for Letters of Administration or a court order until the heirs stop bugging you.” Humorous and annoying at the same time, the reality is that bankers, bank tellers, financial brokerage and life insurance representatives do not understand probate, much less Florida probate!
Letters of Administration are NOT always necessary
Alternatives to Letters of Administration include:
- Summary Administration – shorter and less expensive form of probate
- Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration – a request for reimbursement for funeral expenses (not a true probate)
- Letters of Administration are only issued in Florida’s formal administration process (formal probate) and,
- In many cases, “summary administration” orders are sufficient to distribute bank funds. Let your attorney make this determination before you jump to any conclusions on the kind of court documents that you need.
Schedule your free consultation today to see if you really need Letters of Administration. It’s a free consultation over the phone and should take no more than 15-20 minutes. You’ll get a quote when we’re done but there’s no obligation whatsoever.