Letters testamentary are official court documents that give the executor legal authority to settle the estate of someone who has died. They prove that the executor has the right to act on behalf of the decedent and administer their estate in accordance with New Jersey probate laws.
Letters testamentary are issued by the probate court after the named executor petitions the court to open probate and be officially appointed. Along with a copy of the death certificate, letters testamentary allow the executor to access, inventory, and distribute assets that belonged to the deceased.
Table of Contents
Why Do You Need Letters Testamentary in New Jersey?
When someone passes away in New Jersey, their assets like bank accounts, investments, real estate, and more cannot immediately pass to their heirs or beneficiaries. These assets must go through probate court first.
The probate court will appoint an executor named in the will or an administrator if there is no will. This personal representative will inventory assets, pay debts and taxes owed by the estate, and eventually distribute the remaining assets to heirs.
But the executor or administrator needs legal authority to access accounts, manage assets, and more on behalf of the deceased. Letters of testamentary provide this authority and allow the personal representative to carry out their duties.
Financial institutions and others will require a copy of the letters of testamentary before giving the representative access to the deceased assets. So obtaining letters of testamentary is an essential step after someone dies.
How to Get Letters of Testamentary in New Jersey
To obtain letters of testamentary in New Jersey, the named executor will need to petition the appropriate probate court and meet certain requirements. Here is the general probate process:
File the Will With the Probate Court
The first step is to file a certified copy of the deceased’s will with the probate court in the county where they lived. This serves as notice to the court that probate is beginning.
Submit a Petition
The executor must file a petition with the probate court to ask for letters of testamentary. This petition should include:
- The executor’s name, address, and relationship to the deceased
- The name and date of death of the deceased
- A copy of the death certificate
- The estimated value of assets in the estate
Get a Hearing Date
After the petition is submitted, the probate court will schedule a hearing. This is the executor’s chance to provide documentation and be appointed by the judge.
Receive letters of testamentary
If approved at the hearing, the court will issue letters of testamentary. The judge will sign and seal the document, granting legal authority to administer the estate.
The process’s timeframe may vary depending on the probate court’s schedule. Typically, it takes 4-8 weeks to receive letters of testamentary in New Jersey from start to finish.
What’s Included in New Jersey Letters Testamentary?
While the format may differ slightly by county, letters of testamentary in New Jersey generally include:
- The court’s name and county
- The name of the deceased
- The name and address of the executor
- The signature and seal of the judge issuing the letters
- A statement appointing the executor and granting them authority
- The date the letters are issued
The document serves as legal proof that the executor has been empowered to act on behalf of the estate. Banks, financial institutions, and others will need to see a copy of the letters of testamentary before allowing the executor to access assets, accounts, or make transactions.
How Much Do letters of testamentary Cost in New Jersey?
There are fees involved with obtaining letters of testamentary in New Jersey. Costs may include:
- Court filing fees – This may range from $200-$300 to open probate and file the petition.
- Attorney fees – Hiring a probate lawyer to handle the petition can cost $200-$300 per hour. Complex estates may be more.
- Bond premiums – Some executors may be required to be bonded, which can cost around 1-4% of the estate’s value.
Additional minor costs may also apply, such as photocopies and document certification. Overall costs will depend on the estate’s complexity and the county in which probate occurs.
Alternatives to letters testamentary
If there is no will, letters of testamentary cannot be obtained in New Jersey. The probate court will instead appoint an estate administrator and issue letters of administration.
The administrator will have the same legal powers and duties as an executor. But administrators must meet stricter requirements since there is no will indicating the deceased’s wishes.
Another alternative is small estate administration. In New Jersey, estates valued under $25,000 may not need to go through full probate. A simplified “Small Estates Affidavit” can be filed instead of petitioning for letters.
How Long Are letters testamentary Valid in New Jersey?
New Jersey letters of testamentary are valid from the date they are issued until the estate is closed and assets are distributed. This process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the size of the estate.
The probate court may issue updated letters of testamentary with a new date if an institution requests current verification. The court can also revoke letters if the representative fails to fulfill their duties properly.
Get Legal Help Obtaining New Jersey Letters Testamentary
Settling an estate and navigating probate in New Jersey can be complex and time-consuming. The experienced estate planning attorneys at The Simone Law Firm can provide knowledgeable guidance and representation through every step of the process.