Afterthoughts

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Letters of administration – what are they?

In short, a letter of administration is a document that’s issued by the Probate Registry to let someone to act as the administrator of your estate, after you die. If you’ve appointed executors, in a will, there won’t be need for letters of administration – your executors will need to apply for a ‘grant of probate’ instead.

When are letters of administration used?

A letter of administration is usually needed if there’s no will at all or one cannot be found, if a will has been deemed invalid for some reason, or if there are no executors named in the will (which would be very unusual these days).

In rare situations, there may be a will but the executors might be unable or unwilling to carry out their duties as expected. In this situation, it’s known as a ‘letter of administration with will annexed’.

On the other hand, letters of administration might not be needed at all if the total value of your estate is less than £5000, or only comprises:

  • Personal possessions like cars and jewellery
  • Property or bank accounts that are jointly owned
  • Debts with a higher value than the assets
  • Life insurance policies or pension benefits

Who would use the letter of administration?

Normally, administrators are the next of kin. If there’s a concern about who should act as the administrator of an estate for some reason (perhaps due to unavailability or ill health), then lawyers will follow this order to grant the letters:

  • First would be the marital or official civil partner
  • Then children – in order of age – and grandchildren
  • Parents, then brothers and then sisters
  • Nephews, then nieces, and then any other blood relatives

How to apply for letters of administration

The process is known as ‘getting a grant of letters of administration’. To do this, you’ll need to make an application to the Probate Registry. It’s not very complicated but there are several forms involved.

A local solicitor can normally help you to do this for a relatively small fee. Most solicitors offer a professional probate service that will include applying for letters of administration. They will: 

  • Ask you about the value and details of the estate.
  • Prepare the probate application and associated tax forms.
  • Meet you, to get your signature on those forms.
  • Ask you to swear an oath that all of the information is correct.
  • Check and send everything to the Probate Registry for approval.
  • When received, send on the letters of administration to you in the post.

If there are no complications, then you should receive authorisation to go ahead as an administrator within three to five weeks. If there are complications or the service is struggling with the number of applications, however, it might take a little longer.

From there-on in, you’ll usually need to use those original documents – but it’s a good idea to make copies and take scans that you can share.