What do I do if the bank demands letters testamentary?
Banks and other financial institutions will often say that letters testamentary are required to access a bank account for someone who died. This is not always true.
What are Letters Testamentary?
The phrase “letters testamentary” refers to a legal document authorized by the probate court. It is issued by the clerk’s office.
Letters testamentary evidence that you (or someone else) was appointed to administer the estate. Think of the letter like a power of attorney, but for someone who died. The letter can be provided to third parties who can rely on it when dealing with the estate.
Why Banks Ask for Letters Testamentary
This brings us back to the bank or financial institution.
One of the first steps when someone passes is to secure their property. This includes accessing bank accounts to (1) identify and/or stop automatic payments or (2) to have a source of funds to pay for funeral and other last expenses.
The banks and financial institutions generally respond to these inquiries by freezing the decedent’s accounts. This helps to limit their liability. Rather than getting involved in determining whether you (or someone else) should be given access to the account, the bank or financial institution will ask for letters testamentary.
When Letters Testamentary Are Not Needed
You have to do a probate to get letters testamentary. Not all estates require a probate, however.
This is true for small estates that can be settled using a small estate affidavit, for example. It can also be true for estates that just have real estate that can be handled by an affidavit of heirship or community property that passes to the surviving spouse.
These alternatives to probate are often cheaper and faster than a full probate. However, if the bank requires letters testamentary and you cannot convince the bank otherwise, you may have no choice but to do the probate. This is particularly true if the amount in the bank account exceeds the cost of doing the probate.
Luckily, many banks and financial institutions will accept a small estate affidavit in many cases. It is up to you or your probate attorney to help convince the bank if they initially say no to the request. This is an issue where persistence can help.
Hire an Experienced Probate Attorney
Do you need help accessing a bank account? If so, please give us a call us at (281) 219-9090 to see how we can help.