A letter of administration is a legal document issued by a probate court. It grants the recipient the authority to distribute a deceased person’s assets and settle his or her debts. It can also be used as proof that the recipient has the legal right to act on behalf of the estate.
In most cases, letters of administration are granted to the deceased person’s next of kin. This individual is known as the administrator or personal representative. However, anyone with an interest in an estate can petition for a letter of administration.
Who can be an Administrator?
Any individual who has an interest in the estate may apply for letters of administration. Typically, this includes family members such as spouses, children and parents. If a family member does not apply for letters of administration, then someone else with a financial interest in the estate can do so. For example, if the decedent had creditors that were owed money at the time of death, these creditors may qualify for letters of administration.
In some situations, when someone dies and leaves no will, the court may issue Letters of Administration instead of Letters of Probate. The difference is that Letters of Probate are issued to the executor named in the deceased’s will (if one exists) while Letters of Administration are issued to someone nominated by the court.
The next of kin can apply for letters of administration if there is no will but they are not automatically entitled to be appointed unless they are one of the following:
- Spouse or civil partner
- Child over 18 years old
- Grandchild over 18 years old
- Parent or grandparent
- Brother or sister (including half-brother or sister) over 18 years old
What Does 'Administration' Mean?
Administration refers to the legal process that deals with sorting out the estate of someone who has died. The person responsible for dealing with the administration (or winding up) of an estate is called an administrator.
Sometimes, another name for letters of administration is “letters testamentary”. But unlike a will, this document doesn’t give the recipient(s) any rights to the deceased person’s property. Instead, it simply allows them to gain access to bank accounts and other financial records, in order to find out what property the deceased person owned and who their creditors are.
Letters of Administration are also sometimes known as grant of representation.
When can letters of Administration be Issued?
Letters of administration may be issued if:
- The person who died did not leave a will and there are assets in their name alone that need to be dealt with, for example money in a bank account; or
- The person who died left a will but there is no executor named in it or the executor named does not want to act.
How are Letters of Administration Used?
Letters of administration are a legal document issued by a probate court. The document authorizes the administrator to manage and transfer the assets of the decedent’s estate. This may be required when there is no will, or if the executor named in the will is unable or unwilling to administer the estate.
Letters of Administration are most commonly issued when:
- The deceased died without making a will (intestate)
- There was a valid will, but the executor named in it is unable or unwilling to act
- There is no executor named in the will, or all executors named in the will have died before the testator
Who Needs to Apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration?
The Executor named in a Will is usually responsible for administering the estate, but if there is no Will, or the Will is invalid, then an Administrator must be appointed. The Administrator is usually an eligible family member who applies to the Supreme Court of NSW for letters of administration.
What Documents do you need for a Letter of Administration?
When asking for a Letter of Administration, you will need to provide a few papers. The precise list varies significantly per state, however you will normally require the following documents:
- The authentic death certificate
- If there was a Will, a copy of it.
- A summary of the Estate’s assets and liabilities, as well as a copy of any property titles (real estate, vehicles, etc.)
- Letters from any financial institutions where accounts are kept
- Valuation certificates for any residual assets
How long does it take for a Letter of Administration to be processed?
The Letters of Administration can be obtained in six to eight weeks, if the application was submitted with all of the required documentation. There are a few variables that might cause this schedule to be extended, such as a disagreement over who should be named as the Administrator of the Estate. Because processing times vary, it is typically suggested that you apply for Letters of Administration as soon as possible after the death of a loved one.
What Can you do With Letters of Administration?
When a person dies without naming an executor or with no will at all, but leaves behind assets in his or her name alone, someone needs to take responsibility for those assets. The person who is named in the Letters of Administration is authorized to act on behalf of the estate. That person has the legal authority to do any of the following:
- Distribute assets from the estate to beneficiaries (as outlined in intestacy law)
- File and settle litigation concerning the estate
- File a tax return on behalf of the deceased person
- Sell or refinance real estate
- Withdraw funds from bank accounts
- Negotiate debts and payments owed to creditors