Bank Asks for Letters Testamentary

What do I do if the bank demands letters testamentary?

Banks and other financial institutions will often say that letters testamentary are required in order to access the bank account of the deceased. This is not always true.

What are Letters Testamentary?

The phrase “letters testamentary” refers to a legal document authorized by the probate court issued by the clerk’s office.

Letters testamentary show that you (or someone else) was appointed to administer the estate. This letter is akin to a power of attorney for the deceased. This letter can be provided to third parties who can rely on it when dealing with the estate.

Why Banks Ask for Letters Testamentary

This has to do with the bank or financial institution.

When someone passes, one of the primary steps is to secure their property. This includes accessing bank accounts to either identify and/or stop automatic payments or to use as funding to pay for funeral and other last expenses.

Generally speaking, banks and financial institutions tend to respond to these inquiries by freezing the decedent’s accounts in order to limit their liability. Instead of making the decision themselves of whether you (or someone else) should be given access to the account, the bank or financial institution will ask for letters testamentary.

When Letters Testamentary Are Not Needed

While you have to do a probate to get letters testamentary, not all estates require a probate.

For example, smaller estates can often be settled using a small estate affidavit. It can also be true for estates that solely have real estate that can be handled by an affidavit of heirship or community property that passes to the surviving spouse.

These are often cheaper and faster alternatives to a full probate are often cheaper and faster. However, if the bank absolutely requires letters testamentary, you may have no choice but to do the probate. This is particularly true if the amount in the bank account exceeds the cost of doing the probate.

In many cases, some banks and financial institutions will accept a small estate affidavit. It is up to you or your probate attorney to speak with the bank if they initially say no to the request. Persistence is very helpful in these situations.

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