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The formal instrument of authority and appointment granted by the proper court to an executor (one designated in a will to manage the estate of the deceased) empowering that person to execute the functions of the office.
n. a document issued by the court clerk which states the authority of the executor of an estate of a person who has died. It is issued during probate of the estate as soon as the court approves the appointment of the executor named in the will and the executor's files a security bond if one is necessary (most well-drafted wills waive the need for a bond). Certified copies of the letters are often required by banks and other financial institutions, the federal government, stock transfer agents or other courts before transfer of money or assets to the executor of the estate. (See: administrator, probate)
LETTERS TESTAMENTARY, AND OF ADMINISTRATION. It is proposed to consider, 1.
Their different kinds. 2. Their effect.
2.-1. Their different kinds. 1. Letters testamentary. This is an instrument in writing, granted by the judge or officer having jurisdiction of the probate of wills, under his hand and official seal, making known that on the day of the date of the said letters, the last will of the testator, (naming him,) was duly proved before him; that the testator left goods, &c., by reason, whereof, and the probate of the said will, he certifies "that administration of all and singular, the goods, chattels, rights and credits of the said deceased, any way concerning his last will and testament, was committed to the executor, (naming him,) in the said testament named." 2. Letters of administration may be described to be an instrument in writing, granted by the judge or officer having jurisdiction and power of granting such letters, thereby giving the administrator, (naming him,)," full power to administer the goods, chattels, rights and credits, which were of the said deceased, in the county or, district in which the said judge or officer has jurisdiction; as also to ask, collect, levy, recover and receive the credits whatsoever, of the said deceased, which at the time of his death were owing, or did in any way belong to him, and to pay the debts in which the said deceased stood obliged, so far forth as the said goods and chattels, rights and credits will extend, according, to the rate and order of law." 3. Letters of administration pendente lite, are letters granted during the pendency of a suit in relation to a paper purporting to be the last will and testament of the deceased. 4. Letters of administration de bonis non, are granted, where the former executor or administrator did not administer all the personal estate of the deceased, and where he is dead or has been discharged or dismissed. Letters of administration, durante minori aetate, are granted where the testator, by his will, appoints an infant executor, who is incapable of acting on account of his infancy. Such letters remain in force until the infant arrives at an age to take upon himself the execution of the will. Com. Dig. Administration, F; Off. Ex. 215, 216. And see 6 Rep. 67, b; 5 Rep. 29, a; 11 Vin. Abr. 103; Bac. Ab. h.t. 6. Letters of administration durante absentia, are granted when the executor happens to be absent at the time when the testator died, and it is necessary that some person should act immediately in the management of the affairs of the estate.
3.-2. Of their effect. 1. Generally. 2. Of their effect in the different states, when granted out of the state in which legal proceedings are instituted.
4.-1. Letters testamentary are conclusive as to personal property, while they remain unrevoked; as to realty they are merely prima facie evidence of right. 3 Binn. 498; Gilb. Ev. 66;. 6 Binn. 409; Bac. Abr. Evidence, F. See 2 Binn. 511. Proof that the testator was insane, or that the will was forged, is inadmissible. 16 Mass. 433; 1 Lev. 236. But if the nature of his plea allow the defendant to enter into such proof, he may show that the seal of the supposed probate has been forged, or that the letters have been obtained by surprise; 1 Lev. 136; or been revoked; 15 Serg. & Rawle, 42; or that the testator is alive. 15 Serg. & Rawle, 42; 3 T. R. 130.
5.-2. The effect of letters testamentary, and of administration granted, in some one of the United States, is different in different states. A brief view of the law on this subject will here be given, taking the states in alphabetical order.
6. Alabama. Administrators may sue upon letters of administration granted in another state, where the intestate had no known place of residence in Alabama at the time of his death, and no representative has been appointed in the state; but before rendition of the judgment, he must produce to the court his letters of administration, authenticated according to the laws of the United States, and the certificate of the clerk of some county court in this state, that the letters have been recorded in his office. Before he is entitled to the money on the judgment, he must also give bond, payable to the judge of the court where the judgment is rendered, for the faithful administration of the money received. Aiken's Dig. 183 Toulm. Dig. 342.
7. Arkansas. When the deceased had no residence in Arkansas, and he devised lands by will, or where the intestate died possessed of lands, letters testamentary or of administration shall be granted in the county where the lands lie, or of one of them, if they lie in several counties; and if the deceased had no such place of residence and no lands, such letters may be granted in the county in which the testator or intestate died, or where the greater part of his estate may be. Rev. Stat. c. s. 2.
8. Connecticut. Letters testamentary issued in another state, are not available in this. 3 Day 303. Nor are letters of administration. 3 Day, 74; and see 2 Root, 462.
9. Delaware. By the act of 1721, 1 State Laws, 82, it is declared in substance, that when any person shall die, leaving bona notabilia, in several counties in the state and in Pennsylvania or elsewhere; and, any person not residing in the state, obtains letters of administration out of the state, the deceased being indebted to any of the inhabitants of the state, for a debt contracted within the same to the value of œ20, then, and in such case, such administrator, before he can obtain any judgment in any court of record within the state against any inhabitant thereof, by virtue of such letters of administration, is obliged to file them with some of the registers in this state; and must enter into bonds with sufficient sureties, who have visible estates here, with condition to pay and satisfy all such debts as were owing by the intestate at the time of his death to any person residing in this state, so far as the effects of the deceased in this state will extend. By the act of June 16, 1769, 1 State Laws, 448, it is enacted in substance that any will in writing made by a person residing out of the state, whereby any lands within the state are devised, which shall be proved in the chancery in England, Scotland, Ireland, or any colony, plantation, or island in America, belonging to the king of Great Britain, or in the hustings, or mayor's court, in London, or in some manor court, or before such persons as have power or authority at the time of proving such wills, in the places aforesaid, to take probates of wills, shall be good and available in law for granting the lands devised, as well as of the goods and chattels bequeathed by such will. The copies of such will, and of the bill, answer, depositions and decree, where proved in any court of chancery, or copies of such wills and the probate thereof, where proved in any other court, or in any office as aforesaid, being transmitted to this state, and produced under the public or common-seal of the court or office where the probate is taken, or under the great seal of the kingdom, colony, plantation or island, within which such will is proved (except copies of such wills and probates as shall appear to be revoked), are declared to be matter of record, and to be good evidence in an any court of law or equity in this state, to prove the gift or devise made in such will; and such probates are declared to be sufficient to enable executors to bring their actions within any court within this state, as if the same probates or letters testamentary were granted here, and produced under the seal of any of the registers offices within this state. By the 3d section of the act, it is declared that the copies of such wills and probates so produced, and given in evidence, shall not be returned by the court to the persons producing them, but shall be recorded in the office of the recorder of the county where the same are given in evidence, at the expense of the party producing the same.
10. Florida. Copies of all wills, and letters testamentary and of administration, heretofore recorded in any public office of record in the state, when duly certified by the keeper of said records, shall be received in evidence in all courts of record in this state and the probate of wills granted in any of the United States or of the territories thereof, in any foreign country or state, duly authenticated and certified according to the laws of the state or territory, or of the foreign country or state, where such probate may have been granted, shall likewise be received in evidence in all courts of record in this state.
11. Georgia. To enable executors and administrators to sue in Georgia, the former must take out letters testamentary in the county where the property or debt is; and administrators, letters of administration. Prince's Dig. 238; Act of 1805, 2 Laws of Geo. 268.
12. Illinois. Letters testamentary must be taken out in this state, and when the will is to be proved, the original must be produced; administrators of other states must take out letters in Illinois, before they can maintain an action in the courts of the state. 3 Grif. Reg. 419.
13. Indiana. Executors and administrators appointed in another state may maintain actions and suits and do all other acts coming within their powers, as such, within this state, upon producing authenticated copies of such letters and filing them with the clerk of the court in which such suits are to be brought. Rev. Code, c. 24, Feb. 17, 1838, sec. 44.
14. Kentucky executors and administrators appointed in other states may sue in Kentucky "upon filing with the clerk of the court where the suit is brought, an authenticated copy of the certificate of probate, or orders granting letters of administration of said estate, given in such non- resident's state." 1 Dig. Stat. 536; 2 Litt. 194; 3 Litt. 182.
15. Louisiana. Executors or administrators of other states must take out letters of curatorship in this state. Exemplifications of wills, and testaments are evidence. 4 Griff. L. R. 683; 8 N. S. 586.
16. Maine. Letters of administration must be taken from some court of probate in this state. Copies of wills which have been proved in a court of probate in any of the United States, or in a court of probate of any other state or kingdom, with a copy of the probate thereof, under the seal of the court where such wills have been proved, may be filed and recorded in any probate court in this state, which recording shall be of the same force as the recording and proving the original will. Rev. Stat. T. 9, c. 107 Sec. 20; 3 Mass, 514; 9 Mass. 337; 11 Mass. 256; 1 Pick. 80; 3 Pick. 128.
17. Maryland. Letters testamentary or of administration granted out of Maryland have no effect in this state, except only such letters issued in the District of Columbia, and letters granted there authorize executors or administrators to claim and sue in this state. Act of April 1813, chap. 165. By the act of 1839, chap. 41, when non-resident owners of any public or state of Maryland stocks, or stocks of the city of Baltimore, or any other corporation in this state die, their executors or administrators constituted under the authority of the state, district, territory or country, where the deceased resided at his death, have the same power as to such stocks, as if they were appointed by authority of the state of Maryland. But, before they can transfer the stocks, they must, during three months, give notice to two newspapers published in Baltimore, of the death of the testator or intestate, and of the "amount and description of the stock designed to be transferred." Administration must be granted in this state, in order to recover a debt due here to a decedent, or any of his property, with the exceptions above noticed.
18. Massachusetts. When any person shall die intestate in any other state or country, leaving estate to be administered within this state, administration thereof shall be granted by the judge of probate of any county, in which there is any estate to be administered; and the administration, which shall be first lawfully granted shall extend to all the estate of the deceased within the state, and shall exclude the jurisdiction of the probate court in every other county. Rev. Stat., ch. 64, s. 3. See 3 Mass. 514; 5 Mass. 67; 11 Mass. 256 Id. 314; 1 Pick. 81.
19. Michigan. Letters testamentary or letters of administration granted out of the state are not of any validity in it. In order to collect the debts or to obtain the property a deceased person who was not a resident of the state, it is requisite to take out letters testamentary or letters of administration from a probate court of this stafe, within whose jurisdiction the property lies, which letters operate over all the state, and then sue in the name of the executor or administrator so appointed. Rev. Stat. 280. When the deceased leaves a will executed according to the laws of this state, and the same is admitted to proof and record where he dies, a certified transcript of the will and probate thereof, may be proved and recorded in any county in this state, where the deceased has property real or personal, and letters testamentary may issue thereon. Rev. Stat. 272, 273.
2O. Mississippi. Executors or administrators in another state or territory cannot as such, sue nor be sued in this state. In order to recover a debt due to a deceased person or his property, there must be taken out in the state, letters of administration or letters with the will annexed, as the case may be. These may be taken out from the probate court of the county where the proprty is situated, by a foreign as well as a local creditor, or any person interested in the estate of the deceased, if properly qualified in other respects. Walker's R. 211.
21. Missouri. Letters testamentary or of administration granted in another state have no validity in this; to maintain a suit, the executors or administrators must be appointed under the laws of this state. Rev. Code, Sec. 2, pt 41.
22. New Hampshire. One who has obtained letters of administrition; Adams' Rep. 193, or letters testamentary under the authority of another state, cannot maintain an action in New Hampshire by virtue of such letters. 3 Griff. L. R. 41.
23. New Jersey. Executors having letter testamentary, and administrators letters of administration granted in another state, cannot sue thereon in New Jersey, but must obtain such letters in that state as the law prescribes. 4 Griff. L R. 1240. By the act of March 6, 1828, Harr. Comp. 195, when a will has been admitted to probate in any state or territory of the United States, or foreign nation, the surrogate of any county or this state is authorized, on application of the executor or any person interested, on filing a duly exemplified copy of the will, to appoint a time not less than thirty days, and not more than six-months distant, of which notice is to be given as he shall direct, and if at such time, no sufficient reason be shown to the contrary, to a omit such will to probate, and grant letters testamentary or of administration cum testamento annexo, which shall have the same effect as though the original will had been produced and proved under form. If the person to whom such letters testamentary or of administration be granted, is not a resident of this state, he is required to give security for the faithful administration of the estate. By the statute passed February 28, 1838, Elmer's Dig. 602, no instrument of writing can be admitted to probate under the preceding act unless it be signed and published by the testator as his will. See Saxton's Ch. R. 332.
24. New York. An executor or administrator appointed in another state has no authority to sue in New York. 6 John. Ch. Rep. 353; 7 John. Ch. Rep. 45; 1 Johns. Ch. Rep. 153. Whenever an intestate, not being an inhabitant of this state, shall die out of the state, leaving assets in several counties, or assets shall after his death come in several counties, the surrogate of any county in which assets shall be, shall have power to grant letters of administration on the estate of such intestate; but the surrogate, who shall first grant letters of administration on such estate, shall be deemed thereby to have acquired sole and exclusive jurisdiction over such estate, and shall be vested with the powers incidental thereto. Rev. Stat. part 2, c. 6. tit. 2, art. 2, s. 24; 1 R. L. 455 Sec. 3; Laws, of 1823, p. 62, s. 2, 1824, p. 332.
25. North Carolina. It was decided by the court of conference, then the highest tribunal in North Carolina, that letters granted in Georgia were insufficient. Conf. Rep. 68. But the supreme court have since held that letters testamentary granted in South Carolina, were sufficient to enable an executor to sue in North Carolina. 1 Car. Law Repos. 471. See 1 Heyw. 364.
26. By the revised statutes, ch. 46, s. 6, it is provided, that "where a testator or testatrix shall appoint any person, residing out of this state, executor or executrix of his or her last will and testament, it shall be the duty of the court of pleas and quarter sessions, before which the said will shall be offered for probate, to cause the executor or executrix named therein, to enter into bond with good and sufficient security for his or her faithful administration of the estate of the said testator or testatrix and for the distribution thereof in the manner prescribed by law; the penalty of said bond shall be double the supposed amount of the personal estate of the said testator or testatrix; and until the said executor or executrix shall enter into such bond, he or she shall have no power nor authority to intermeddle with the estate of the said testator or testatrix; and the court of the county in which the testator or testatrix had his or her last usual place of residence, shall proceed to, grant letters of administration with the will annexed, which shall continue in force until the said executor or executrix shall enter into bond as aforesaid. Provided nevertheless, and it is hereby declared, that the said executor or executrix shall enter into bond as by this act directed within the space of one year after the death of the said testator, or testatrix, and not afterwards."
27. Ohio. Executors and administrators appointed under the authority of another state, may, by virtue of such appointment, sue in this. Ohio Stat. vol. 38, p. 146; Act. of March 23, 1840, which, went into effect the first day of November following; Swan's Coll. 184.
28. Pennsylvania. Letters testamentary or of administration, or otherwise purporting to authorize any person to intermeddle with the estate of a decedent, granted out of the commonwealth, do not in general confer on any such person any of the powers, and authorities possessed by an executor or administrator, under letters granted within the state. Act of March 15, 1832 s. 6. But by the act of April 14, 1835, s. 3, this rule is declared not to apply to any public debt or loan of this commonwealth; but such public debt or loan shall pass and be transferable, and the dividends thereon accrued and to accrue, be receivable in like manner and in all respects and under the same and no other regulations, powers and authorities as were used and practiced before the passage of the above mentioned act. And the act of June 16, 1836, s. 3, declares that the above act of March 15, 1832, s. 6, shall not apply to shares of stock in any bank or other incorporated company, within this commonwealth, but such shares of stock shall pass and be transferable, and the dividends thereon accrued and to accrue, be receivable in like manner in all respects, and under the same regulations, powers and authorities as were used and practiced with the loans or public debts of the United States and were used and practiced with the loans or public debt of this commonwealth, before the passage of the, said act of March 15, 1832, s. 6, unless the by-laws, rules and regulations of any such bank or corporation, shall, otherwise provide and declare. Executors and administrators who had been lawfully appointed in some other of the United States, might, by virtue of their letters duly authenticated by the proper officer, have sued in this state. 4 Dall. 492; S. C. 1 Binn. 63. But letters of administration granted by the archbishop of York, in England, give no authority to the administrator in Pennsylvania. 1 Dall. 456.
29. Rhode Island. It does not appear to be settled whether executors and administrators appointed in another state, may, by virtue of such appointment, sue in this. 3 Griff. L. R. 107, 8.
30. South Carolina. Executors and administrators of other states, cannot, as such, sue in South Carolina; they must take out letters in the state. 3 Griff. L. R. 848.
31. Tennessee. 1. Where any person or persons may obtain, administration on the estate of any intestate, in any one of the United States, or territory thereof, such person or persons shall be enabled to prosecute suits in any court in this state, in the same manner as if administration had been granted to such person or persons by any court in the state of Tennessee. Provided, that such person or persons shall, produce a copy of the letters of administration, authenticated in the manner which has been prescribed by the congress of the United States, for authenticating the records or judicial acts of any one state, in order to give them validity in any other state and that such letters of administration had been granted in pursuance of, and agreeable to the laws of the state or territory in which such letters of administration were granted.
32.-2. When any executor or executors may prove the last will and testament of any deceased person, and take on him or themselves the execution of said will in any state in the United States, or in any territory thereof, such person or persons shall be enabled to prosecute suits in any court in this state, in the same manner as if letters testamentary had been granted to him or them, by any court within the state of Tennessee. Provided, That such executor or executors shall, produce a certified copy of the letters testamentary under the hand and seal of the clerk of the court where the same were obtained, and a certificate by the chief justice, presiding judge, or chairman of such court, that the clerk's certificate is in due form, and that such letters testamentary had been granted in pursuance of, and agreeable to, the laws of the state or territory in which such letters testamentary were granted. Act of 1839, Carr. & Nich. Comp. 78.
33. Vermont. If the deceased person shall, at the time of his death, reside in any other state or country, leaving estate to be administered in this state, administration thereof shall be granted by the probate court of the district in which there shall be estate to administer; and the administration first legally granted, shall extend to all the estate of the deceased in this state, and shall exclude the jurisdiction of the probate court of every other district. Rev. Stat. tit. 12, c. 47, s. 2.
34. Virginia. Authenticated copies of wills, proved according to the laws of any of the United States, or of any foreign country, relative to any estate in Virginia, may be offered for probate in the general court, or if the estate lie altogether in any other county or corporation, in the circuit, county or corporation court of such county or corporation. 3 Griff. L. R. 345. It is understood to be the settled law of Virginia, though there is no statutory provision on the subject, that no probate of a will or grant of administration in another state of the Union, or in a foreign country, and no qualification of an executor or administrator, elsewhere than in Virginia, give any such executor or administrator any right to demand the effects or debts of the decedent, which may happen to be within the jurisdiction of the state. There must be a regular probate or grant of administration and qualification of the executor or administrator in Virginia, according to her laws. And the doctrine prevails in the federal courts held in Virginia, as well as in the state courts. 3 Grif. Reg. 348.