Occasionally, legal terminology can be confusing. When a loved one dies, frequently, surviving family members are told by banks or mortgage companies that they need “letters” from a lawyer to deal with the assets of the deceased. Usually, this terminology leads the surviving family member to call and ask if the lawyer can write a letter to help them. Unfortunately, they’re often disappointed to learn the “letter” really isn’t a letter at all.

In essence, the “letter” is a certificate by the court that the person named has the legal authority to deal with the assets of the deceased. In a situation where a deceased person left a Last Will and Testament that appointed a person as an executor, the letter is referred to as a Letter Testamentary. In a situation where the deceased did not have a will, but a court has opened an administration, the letter is referred to as a Letter of Administration. For purposes of this blog, we will simply refer to both as a “letter.”

So, how do you get a letter? While the process in Texas isn’t exactly as simple as hiring a lawyer to write the letter, fortunately, the answer isn’t all that complicated.

The first step is hiring a lawyer. In most cases, unless you’re a licensed attorney you can’t represent yourself in front of a court when dealing with a decedent’s estate. Hiring an attorney experienced with probate matters is important because those attorneys will be able to quickly and easily explain the legal process, have office processes that will allow the case to move quickly, and (if they typically work in the jurisdiction where the decedent died, they’ll know the judges and courts in the area so they can help you navigate those waters).

The second step is going to court. Texas law provides that, whether the decedent had a Last Will or not, to have someone appointed as the personal representative of the estate, you must file an application and hold a court hearing. Thankfully, the process can be relatively easy and quick in many instances. That said, however, you should understand that the “letter” you need is only issued to the person who is appointed by the court as the personal representative (i.e., the person who has been designated by the court as being in charge of the estate property).

Once you get the Letter, you are responsible for dealing with the assets of the deceased person. Without giving you a full law school course on probate law in Texas, you should understand that being named the personal representative and having a Letter issued to you makes you subject to handling the estate consistent with Texas laws. You will be able to obtain property or cash from someone that owes the decedent or estate, but you will have to operate the estate according to Texas law. The best advice you can get is that given to you above, in Step One. Hire a qualified and experienced lawyer. More information regarding Letters of Testamentary can be found on our website by clicking here. For more information on probate in North Texas, or for assistance in these issues, call our offices at (214) 974-8940.

ATTORNEY CHRIS PARVIN is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Parvin is the Managing Partner of the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C. and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Mr. Parvin can be reached by email at chris@parvinlaw.com.

Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas with attorneys practicing law in the fields of Estate Planning, Probate, Business Law and Family Law.