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The Bank Asked for Letters Testamentary: Now What?

Losing a loved one is painful. Wrapping up the deceased’s financial affairs only adds to the stress. I often receive phone calls stating, “The bank asked me for Letters Testamentary. What’s that, and how do I get them?” Unfortunately, it involves probate.

If the deceased owned money or property in their name only, generally a probate court must supervise distribution to the heirs and beneficiaries. Letters Testamentary is a legal document appointing a Personal Representative to manage the deceased’s estate. Obtaining Letters Testamentary requires filing a probate petition with the district court and having a hearing before the probate judge. Only then will the bank release funds from the deceased’s account.

Probate is both costly and time-consuming. Thus, it’s best to avoid probate. The primary ways to avoid probate are beneficiary designations along with a Transfer-on-Death Deed for real property or a revocable living trust. Which option is best for you depends on a variety of factors, something an estate planning attorney can help determine.