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Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 704: Priority Among Different Letters

“Letters” is a legal document issued by the New York Surrogate’s Court to a petitioner, giving that petitioner the legal authority to act as the administrator of an estate. While typically letters are issued to only one person, there are occasions in which letters are issued to more than one person with respect to the administration of the same estate. New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act §704, Priority among different letters, provides guidance as to what should happen in such a circumstance. If you are an executor, estate administrator, beneficiary, or other interested party in an estate matter where there are concerns about letters, contact an experienced New York estate administration lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates who will ensure that your interests are protected.

Related statutory provisions
  1. Requisites of letters: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 701
  2. Letters evidence of authority;  effect of appeal: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 703
  3. Time, how reckoned upon successive letters: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 705
  4. When surviving or remaining fiduciary may act;  when successor must be appointed: Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 706
Types of letters of administration

There are three general types of letters include letters testamentary, letters of administration with will annexed, and letters of administration.

  • Letters testamentary. Letters testamentary are issued to the executor named in a will, upon petition to the New York Surrogate’s Court. To initiate probate, the named executor submits the will to the Surrogate’s Court along with a petition for probate and letters testamentary. The petitioner must attest that he or she is not ineligible to serve. If you have concerns related to the eligibility rules related to being appointed executor, discuss them with an experienced New York estate administration attorney. Under New York law, a petitioner would be ineligible if he or she is under 18, is incompetent, is a felon, has a history of dishonesty or substance abuse, or is otherwise found to be unfit.
  • Letters of administration with will annexed. If the decedent left a will and either failed to name an executor or the named executor was unable or unqualified to serve, then the court will appoint an eligible petitioner as the administrator. In such a case, the letters are referred to letters of administration with will annexed.
  • Letters of administration. Letters of administration are issued to petitioners for administration in cases where there the decedent died intestate—without a will. The petitioner must file a petition for letters of administration with the Surrogate’s Court. The petition must list the interest in the petition has in the estate. Only eligible petitioners such as heirs have the right to serve as estate administration and be issued letters of administration.
Priority among different letters

On occasion letters of administration may be issued to more than one person. This may occur where the decedent is intestate and petitioners submit petitions of administration in different counties. According to Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 704. Priority among different letters, the person who is issued letters first from a Surrogate’s Court that has jurisdiction has authority. The authority is exclusive and remains in effect until the letters are revoked. Furthermore, that person has the right to demand from anyone to whom letters were later issued estate property.

If you are involved in an dispute related to multiple letters and questions of jurisdiction, contact an experienced estate administration attorney in New York, as such issues can be quite complex.

Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 704. Priority among different letters

A person who applies in good faith therefor, and to whom letters are first issued from a court having jurisdiction to issue them, has exclusive authority under the letters until they are revoked.  He is entitled to demand and recover from any person to whom letters are afterwards issued by any other surrogate's court the property in his hands belonging to the estate.  But the acts of a person to whom letters were afterwards issued, done in good faith before notice of the letters first issued are valid and an action or special proceeding commenced by him may be continued by and in the name of the person or persons to whom the letters were first issued.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

To ensure that your legal rights are protected through the process of probate or estate administration, contact an experienced estate administration attorney serving New York at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates. Our attorneys have decades of experience successfully representing clients in a wide variety of administration matters before the New York Surrogate’s Court, including matters related to letters. If you have concerns related to procedures related to the administration of an estate, including the requirements of New York SPCA section 704, Priority among different letters, contact one of our attorneys at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW (1-800-696-9529) to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Queens, Nassau County, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Suffolk County, and Westchester County.

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