If you are going through the process of planning your estate, you may have come across the term “letters of administration.” These documents appoint a manger of assets and liabilities of a person’s estate. They are issued by a local probate court in the event of a person’s death. Letters of administration are necessary if the individual has not left behind a will specifying their wishes for their assets.
When are Letters of Administration Necessary?
Letters of administration come into play when a legal executor has not been named or is unable to fulfill the role. This can occur, for example, when the executor designated in the will has become incapacitated, has experienced a significant life change, or some other obstacle is preventing them from acting. In many cases, a person simply has not written a will with the help of a probate lawyer. In fact, 60% of Americans pass away without an estate plan. Therefore, the courts must ensure that the best person is entrusted with the job.
Who Can Be Named as an Administrator?
A probate court will examine each situation on a case-by-case basis. There are lots of factors that could influence their choice. In general, administrators are chosen based on laws of descent. The spouse of the decedent is usually the first choice, followed by children, parents, grandparents, and siblings. Again, no two situations are exactly alike, and probate can cause tension within families, so this can vary. The administrator is responsible for fulfilling legal and financial obligations of the estate, such as outstanding debts. They are also responsible distributing assets and inheritance the same way an executor would.
How Can I Obtain Letters of Administration?
To get letters of administration, you will need to submit your application to the probate courts. You will need to obtain a copy of the decedent’s death certificate from the funeral home. It’s best to request extra copies. However, you should submit the original copy with your application if possible. You should also have the following documents:
- A copy of the will
- Letters from banks
- A list of assets and liabilities
- Any property titles
Next, you will need to notify all relatives. You may have already spoken with family, but you will need to formally connect with any potential heirs. Try to collect as much information as you can to set yourself up for a smooth process. You may not be able to obtain certain things, such as bank account access, insurance policies, credit card information, and mortgages, until your letters of administration have been granted.
An attorney can help you with this to ensure all necessary materials are included, such as tax forms. Once your application is complete, your lawyer can help you submit it to the court. Once your application has been approved, you will receive your documents.
How Long Does It Take to Obtain Letters of Administration?
There are lots of factors that can influence how long it takes your local probate court to issue letters of administration. However, in general, you can expect it to take six to eight weeks. This is assuming you have included all of the necessary documents with your application. If there were any errors in your application, it can take longer to get your letters, so working with a wills and estates lawyer is critical. If a situation arises such as a disagreement over who will be named administrator, this can also cause the process to take longer.
What Can I Do with Letters of Administration?
Once you have your letters, you will be able to manage the estate’s assets. You should distribute assets in accordance with the decedent’s wishes to the best of your ability. If you have been selected, the court has deemed you most prepared to act on this person’s behalf. If there is no will, state law will determine how you can distribute inheritances. You will also be tasked with paying off debts, closing accounts, and ensuring that all relevant parties are formally notified, in addition to a wide range of potential other tasks. Your probate lawyer can help you manage this process legally and efficiently to ensure all parties are satisfied with the results.
If you have been appointed administrator of an estate through letters of administration and aren’t sure where to start, contact Blackford & Flohr. Our Maryland probate lawyers can help you navigate the process and ensure the decedent’s assets are properly distributed and their estate is legally settled. Call (410) 647-6677 to speak with a lawyer today.