After a loved one passes away, receiving court approval to execute their will is likely your first order of the estate administration process. The clerk of the probate court issues what is called a “Letter of Appointment” – formally naming you as the estate executor or personal administrator.
But how long does acquiring this essential document take? And what steps must you complete prior to the court granting Letters that confirm the powers to transact estate business, access assets, pay debts, and distribute inheritances that rightly belong to heirs?
In this article, we’ll walk through the typical timeline and top-to-bottom process for successfully being issued Letters of Testamentary or Letters of Administration in probate court.
First, let’s review the basics. A Letter of Testamentary is a legal document issued by the probate court that gives the executor or personal representative the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.
It certifies that the will is valid and that the executor named in the will has the power to access assets, pay debts, and distribute property, among other estate administration duties. Letters of Testamentary are required before banks, government agencies, and other institutions will recognize the executor’s authority and allow them to conduct business for the estate.
Letters of Testamentary are also referred to as Letters of Administration in some states. But in Florida, Letters of Testamentary are issued if there is a valid will, while Letters of Administration are used in intestate estates (without a will).
Before the executor can start settling the estate, they need official proof of their appointment and powers from the probate court.
Banks, financial institutions, government agencies, and others will require the executor to provide a letter of testamentary before allowing them to access, close, or transfer assets in the deceased’s name.
According to Florida law, the executor typically has to obtain letters of testamentary within 60 days of the deceased’s passing. This ensures the estate is being managed properly and on a timely basis.
Obtaining a letter of testamentary involves precise legal steps under Florida law. Here is a more detailed look at what is required:
Within 10 days of the deceased’s passing, the custodian of the will must file the original will with the circuit court in the county where the deceased resided. This officially commences the probate proceedings.
If no will exists, an interested party can file a petition with the court to open an intestate estate administration. Florida has an order of preference for who can serve as personal representative in this situation. Typically, it goes to the surviving spouse first.
The next step is for the executor named in the will, or proposed personal representative, to file a petition with the court to open the probate estate formally. This is done through a probate lawyer.
The petition requests that the court confirm the personal representative’s appointment and confirm the will’s validity. Additional documents required at this stage include:
- The death certificate
- A notarized oath of office from the personal representative
- Resident agent designation filed with the Florida Secretary of State
- Posting a bond, if required by the court
Within 3 months of the first published notice to creditors, a notice of the estate administration must be served to all beneficiaries named in the will. This gives them a chance to contest the will if desired.
The personal representative’s lawyer will prepare and file a verified petition for issuance of letters of testamentary, as well as a proposed order.
The judge will review the petition and order. If approved, the court will issue the letters of testamentary appointing the personal representative and granting them the legal authority to act.
So when can you expect to receive the Letters after starting the Florida probate process? Here is the standard timeline:
- 1-2 Weeks – Normal turnaround time after filing the petition, if the will is not contested and there are no complications.
- 2-3 Weeks – More common timeline for most standard probate cases. Allows time for court processing and review.
- 3-4 Weeks – On the longer end if the estate is large or complex, requiring more court review.
- 1-3 Months – If the will is contested or probate is delayed, it can take much longer to get Letters.
The timeline can vary based on the county and specific circumstances of each estate. But most Florida probate courts issue Letters of Testamentary within 1-4 weeks if the petition is properly filed and no objections are raised.
In Florida, the executor is required by law to be represented by a licensed probate attorney during formal estate proceedings.
Very few exceptions exist, such as if the executor is the sole beneficiary of the estate or is a licensed Florida attorney themselves.
An estate planning attorney handles all filings and correspondence with the court to obtain the letters of testamentary on the executor’s behalf. They ensure the process moves along quickly and smoothly.
Once the executor receives the letters of testamentary from the probate court, they have the legal authority to start administering the estate. Some of their key duties include:
- Notifying creditors of the estate administration
- Creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets
- Appraising assets and managing investments
- Paying valid claims against the estate
- Filing tax returns on behalf of the estate
- Distributing remaining assets to beneficiaries
The executor will need to provide letters of testamentary to financial institutions and government agencies whenever conducting business on behalf of the estate.
Throughout the process, the executor is required to keep detailed financial records and provide ongoing accountings to the court.
Finally, the executor must file a final account with the probate court showing the distribution and closure of the estate. This completes their duties as executor.
Settling an estate and obtaining a letter of testamentary in Florida involves precise legal steps. Having an experienced probate attorney guide you through the process is crucial.
The probate lawyers at Stivers Law have assisted countless families through this process. Based in Coral Gables, FL, they know how to obtain letters of testamentary quickly so you can begin settling the estate without delay.
Whether you need help filing the will, serving notice to heirs, obtaining court approval, or simply have questions, visit https://miamiwealthplanning.com/ today. They provide knowledgeable legal guidance every step of the way.