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Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 701: Requisites of Letters

When a loved one passes away, his (or her) estate must be settled and transferred to other people. If the decedent left a will, then it will state who gets the decedent’s property. For example, the will might state that the property is to go to specific members of the decedent’s family. The decedent may also decide to leave property to friends or charities. In the absence of a will, the decedent’s property will go to his or her next of kin, based on New York’s laws of intestate succession. However, the transfer of property is not immediate. The decedent’s estate must first be settled. The responsibility for settling a decedent’s estate is in the hands of the executor named in the will, or an estate administrator in the absence of will. In either case, before the moving forward with the activities of settling an estate and distributing assets, the Surrogate’s Court must formally appoint the executor or administrator and issue him or her a document called “Letters.” In order to meet the legal requirements, the Letters must be properly executed. Whether you are an executor, estate administration, beneficiary, or other interested party in a matter related to an estate, and have concerns related to the process, including the requirements of serving as a voluntary administrator as described in Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 701, Requisites of letters, contact an experienced New York probate lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates.

Related statutory provisions
  1. Limited and restrictive letters: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 702
  2. Letters evidence of authority;  effect of appeal: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 703
  3. Priority among different letters: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 704
  4. Time, how reckoned upon successive letters: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 705

Letters are a type of order or decree issued by the Surrogate’s Court to appoint someone to perform the necessary actions to wind up a decedent’s estate. Banks, brokerages, government agencies, and other entities typically require a certified copy of the letters before conducting business with the person purported to have authority to administer the decedent’s estate. For example, a bank will not open an account for the estate without a certified copy of letters.

There are different types of letters. If the decedent died testate, meaning he or she left a will, and an executor was named in the will, the letters are called letters testamentary. If the decedent left a will, but did not name an executor, or the executor is unwilling, unable, or not qualified to serve, then the Surrogate’s Court would issue the person appointed to administer the estate letters of administration with will annexed. If the decedent did not leave a will, then the court would appoint an estate administrator who would receive letters of administration.

Generally, in each of these cases the authority in the letters is the same. The executor or estate administrator would have the authority to perform the necessary tasks take control of the assets in the estate, inventory them, and safeguard them. The letters would also require the executor or administrator to pay estate debts and respond to claims. Estate debts may include bills such as credit card or utility bills owed by the decedent at the time of his death. Expenses that the executor or administrator would be required to pay out of estate assets would include expenses incurred related to settling the estate such as attorney’s fees. If there are claims or lawsuits filed against the estate, the executor or administrator would have the authority to defend the estate, and pay only valid claims.

As a New York probate attorney will explain, there are also other types of letters that are issued by the Surrogate’s Court under special circumstances such as filing a wrongful death lawsuit or to receive and administer specific property. If there are restrictions or limitations, the letters will specify such restrictions or limitations.

Requisites of letters

According to the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, for letters to be properly executed, the following requirements are necessary.

  • The letters must be issued in the name of the people of the State of New York.
  • The letters must be attested in the name of the judge of the Surrogate’s Court
  • The letters must be sealed with the seal of the Surrogate’s Court
  • The letters must be signed by the judge, chief clerk, or other authorized official for the Surrogate’s Court

Once issued, letters can be revoked or suspended. As an experienced probate attorney in New York will explain, only the court which issued the letters has the authority to revoke, suspend, or modify the letters.

Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 701. Requisites of letters
  1. Letters granted by any court to a fiduciary shall be issued in the name of the people of the state, attested in the name of the judge of the court, sealed with the seal of the court and signed by the court or the chief clerk of the court or such other officer as the chief clerk shall have authorized or deputized for the purpose.
  2. To all letters of guardianship of the property of an infant, the court must cause a copy of 1719 and 1720 to be annexed or printed thereon.
  3. No court except the court which issues letters shall have power to suspend, modify or revoke them, so long as the court issuing them has jurisdiction of the estate or matter in which the letters were issued.
Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you have concerns related to the administration of the estate of a loved one, including questions related the requirements of New York SPCA section 701, Requisites of letters, contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates. Our probate attorneys serving New York have years of experience successfully representing clients in matters related to a variety of estate and probate matters, including matters related to the issuance of letters. Contact one of our skilled attorneys at 800-696-9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation about your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Long Island, Nassau County, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Suffolk County, and Westchester County.

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