What is a Letter of Testamentary?


A letter of testamentary is a legal document that gives the appointed executor authority to execute instructions on distributing assets and resolving post-death logistics of a decedent’s estate. Getting a letter of testamentary is an early necessary step in establishing authority to administer an estate.

The letter of testamentary requires all correct and complete information. It is essential to diligently review all paperwork to ensure nothing is missing or incorrect before submission. If anything is unclear, an attorney can help to avoid wasting time and money resulting from incorrect paperwork submission. Keep in mind, attorney fees add up quickly.

The letter of testamentary is required because it mandates that the person administering the estate has the legal right and obligation to manage the post-death logistics of the decedent’s estate.

Getting a Letter of Testamentary

Here are the steps to get a letter of testamentary:

  1. Get a certified copy of the death certificate
  2. Supply information about the decedent
  3. Get a copy of the will (if there is one)
  4. Supply any additional court-required forms and fees
  5. Submit the papers to probate court
Get a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate

A certified copy of the death certificate is required. The person who completes the letter of testamentary uses this document to write the letter. If there is no death certificate, one may be ordered from the decedent’s funeral home or on the state government website in the state where the decedent died. Read our article about getting a death certificate

Supply Information About the Decedent

It is essential to use correct information in the letter of testamentary. This includes full legal name, address, social security number, birth date, etc. All of this information is found on the death certificate and must match the letter of testamentary exactly.

Get a Copy of the Will

If there is a will, a will is required so that the letter can be written according to its instructions. If it is not clear if there is a will or not, ask the decedent’s attorney, family members, other survivors, and friends if they know of or have a copy of a will.

A Letter of Testamentary Without a Will

A letter of testamentary can be issued even if the decedent died intestate (in which case they did not have a will). If this is the case, there’s an additional process. If a will or other estate plans are unavailable, probate may be filed (if required) with the local courts. After that, a hearing date is set to choose an administrator, typically a spouse or close relative. The administrator is in charge of providing an inventory of all assets in the estate, settling obligations, and paying taxes.

Supply Any Additional Forms and Fees

Although letters of testamentary are standard, every state is different regarding what they require. To ensure the letter is prepared correctly, additional forms or fees may be required if requested by the court. Keep in mind that qualifying information on the background of the potential executor may also be required.

Submit the Papers to Probate Court

It is imperative that the letter of testamentary is accurate. Double and triple check the information to avoid issues. Once all the appropriate documents are accurate and complete, make copies of all documents and submit the originals to the appropriate probate court. The court then processes the letter of testamentary.


After the documents have been submitted, the court is responsible for reviewing and approving it, which takes anywhere from two weeks to six months depending on the jurisdiction. The letter shows who is appointed by the letter of testamentary. In most, but not all instances,, the appointee hires an attorney to help guide them through the post-death logistics process as the legal representative of the estate. If there are any disputes concerning assets, the attorney can help resolve them. However, online probate services are growing in popularity.


A letter of testamentary grants someone the authority to fulfill the responsibilities of post-death logistics of a decedent’s estate. The process of getting a letter of testamentary can take several weeks to several months, depending on the court schedule.

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