Frequent Scenario: Someone dies. Their surviving spouse is told by the bank they need “Letters” to access a bank account. Surviving spouse finds a lawyer online and asks him to draft the letter. Surviving spouse is then frustrated to learn that she doesn’t really need a letter from a lawyer – but has to go to court and get something from a judge. Surviving spouse is confused by the termniology and doesn’t know what to do. This blog explains and can help you understand the legal process in Texas.
First, understand the word “letters” can be misleading. In this context, the word “letter” is not used to refer to correspondence or something you place in the mail but rather a certificate issued by a court specifying the identity of a person authorized to deal with the estate of a deceased person. In other words, a “letter” is a document that shows you have the legal power to deal with the property of the person who died. When you’ve been granted Letters by a court, you’re the person that banks, creditors, and others will deal with regarding any assets or debts of the decedent because they will assume that you’re the person the Court has placed in charge of the of the estate.
To get letters, unfortunately, you can’t simply call a lawyer for them (because the lawyer can’t just draft one up). You can only be granted Letters by a court with jurisdiction over the deceased person’s estate. To get to court quickly, the best thing you can do is talk to a local attorney who has experience in probate law. Although the prospect of going to court can be daunting, the good news, however, is that most states (including Texas) have laws that allow for simple, low-cost probate in situations where either the deceased person left a valid Last Will and Testament that provided for unsupervised administration of his/her estate or, in cases where there was no Last Will, where all of the people who will inherit agree the court should not be significantly involved. This sort of unsupervised administration is preferable because it dramatically reduces costs and simplifies the administration (but is only allowed in certain situations).
In many cases, the probate process is easy and only requires a single, brief court hearing. Once you hire a lawyer, the lawyer can advise you as to what laws are applicable to your situation, where the probate application should be filed, and exactly what process should be followed. The lawyer can help you deal with the court, creditors, and even other people who will inherit from the estate. But, take caution, not every lawyer handles probate law cases. For simple cases, you can certainly work with lawyers who handle various types of cases but for more complex matters or cases involving substantial disagreement, you should only work with probate lawyers who have considerable experience in this area of law (and not a general law attorney).
Because not every case is identical and circumstances are very important, if you were told you need to obtain letters (usually by a bank or other financial institution), you should call an attorney to ascertain the best way to get letters from the court and whether or not your case would require court supervision. Our firm routinely helps clients from all over North Texas work through important probate issues, obtain Letters from courts, and navigate their legal requirements. We would welcome the opportunity to learn about your case and provide you with information. Call us today so we can help you. Most consultations are completely free of charge and take less than 30 minutes by telephone.
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 [email protected].
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.