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An individual who has been named as a personal representative or executor in a will has a number of important duties. These include gathering the deceased person’s property and transferring it to the beneficiaries (legatees) through a court-supervised process known as probate. In order to initiate this proceeding, the executor must first obtain what are referred to as letters testamentary. This document gives the executor the legal authority to administer the deceased person’s estate.

In Louisiana, the executor, usually through the services of an attorney, petitions the court in the Parish in which the decedent lived. This requires the filing of a Petition for Probate and Appointment of the Executor. You do not need to file a death certificate with the Court to begin this process. The application includes a statement that the person has been named as the executor in the will.

In Louisiana, the law says that a will is self-proving and thus the court will not hold a hearing to appoint the executor, but instead will issue the Letters Testamentary based on the pleadings alone. 

In short, the letters allow the executor to collect the assets of the deceased which may be held by  another person or an institution such as a bank. Since banks and other institutions may want to keep the document on file, it is necessary to obtain multiple certified copies. The executor can also carry out his or her other duties such as inventorying and appraising assets, paying debts, and transferring property to beneficiaries, according to the terms of the will.

Letters of Administration

In the event a person dies without a valid will in place, an heir of the decedent, typically a legal relative, needs to petition the probate court for letters of administration. In this situation, the court will hold a hearing to appoint this individual to act as the estate administrator, issue the letters and open probate. The administrator then manages and distributes the assets according to the state’s intestacy laws which generally give priority to spouses, children and parents.

In our next article, we will look at the change in succession law which now allows for an independent administration of an estate which has made the entire process so much easier.

Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco, Esq.