Probate law is full of terminology that most people have not encountered before, and one term that I sometimes get asked about is “letter of administration.” Oftentimes, a letter of administration is not actually necessary for an estate going through probate in Florida, but there are several specific situations where a letter of administration is required. In order to help should you find yourself in one of these situations, I’m going to review the legal definition and discuss how to get a letter of administration.
When Do You Need a Letter of Administration?
A letter of administration is a legal document that allows the court to appoint a personal representative to manage a decedent’s estate. However, this letter and the court appointment is not necessary if the decedent already named a personal representative in their will. There are typically only two situations where a letter of administration is actually necessary:
• The decedent died intestate, meaning that they either didn’t write a will or their will was declared invalid.
• The personal representative named in the will is unwilling or unable to manage the estate. If, for example, the named personal representative falls ill, they may not be able to complete their duties. They also may be unable to handle the estate due to the time commitment required. Because the first personal representative doesn’t always work out, many people name an alternate in their will, but if an alternate is not named, the court will need to appoint an administrator.
How Do You Get a Letter of Administration?
Getting a letter of administration can be frustrating and time-consuming because it requires going through a process called formal administration. In Florida, formal administration requires close court supervision throughout the entire probate process, starting with opening the estate, including the distribution of assets, and ending with the closing of the estate. If you are told that your loved one’s estate must go through formal administration, it’s best to contact a Florida probate lawyer to help you navigate the process.
Before naming an administrator in an official legal document, the court may appoint a temporary special administrator who has limited access to the decedent’s estate. In situations where a will exists but the chosen personal representative was unable to fulfill their duties, this temporary special administrator must direct the estate based on the terms of the will.
What If a Bank or Insurer Asks You For a Letter of Administration?
If your loved one has recently passed away and you were appointed the personal representative, you will most likely need to contact organizations such as the decedent’s bank and insurance company (if they had life insurance). Some people hit a stumbling block at this point because the bank or insurance company asks them for a letter of administration.
Before assuming that you’ll have to go through the 9-12 months-long process of formal administration in order to get that letter of administration, talk to your probate attorney. In many cases, the bank teller or insurance company representative may not fully understand probate. In Florida, if you have been appointed the personal representative in the decedent’s will and the assets in your decedent’s estate do not exceed $75,000, the estate will qualify for summary administration and a letter of administration will be unnecessary.
If you have more questions about letters of administration or any other probate terminology, don’t hesitate to contact Wintter & Associates, P.A.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.