Letters of Administration

Discover what letters of administration are and who needs to apply for them

Last updated: 16 March 2017

What are letters of administration?

Letters of administration allow a family member or friend to act as the administrator of an estate. An administrator will only become responsible for managing the estate when an executor has not been legally appointed and after the probate registry issues what is known as a grant of letters of administration.

The legal authorisation to take control of the estate of a loved one is sometimes referred to as ‘grant of representation’. This term can be used instead of both letters of administration and probate.

How to become an administrator of an estate

To receive the letters of administration and become the administrator of an estate, a probate application form has to be sent to the Probate Registry. Only in the following circumstances will someone have to apply to become the administrator of an estate:

  • The absence of a will
  • Invalidity of a will
  • No executors are named in the will
  • The executors named in the will do not to adopt the role

In the event that the entire estate is left to one person, the letters of administration can be sent to the sole benefactor even if there is a valid will with named executors.

Prioritising administrators

Normally, the role of administrator is intended to be the next of kin. Certain family members are prioritised when considering whether to send someone the letters of administration:

  • Marital or civil partner
  • Child
  • Grandchild
  • Parent
  • Brother or sister
  • Nephew or niece
  • Another relative

Usually, an unmarried partner who has not been named as an executor in the will won’t be granted letters of administration. This intention has to be stipulated in the will.

Dealing with the Probate Registry

The Probate Registry will contact the administrator to arrange an interview. At this interview, the administrator will have to verify the information on the legal paperwork before swearing an oath. This is an important part of applying for probate.

The administrator of the estate is obliged to bring all of the relevant documentation and letters regarding the estate to the interview.

There is also the option for the administrator to go to their solicitor’s office to confirm the oath instead of the Probate Registry. This service will incur a small fee from the solicitor, but can be more convenient for some.

When the letters of administration are not required

In most cases, where there are properties in an estate, you will need to be granted letters of administration. However, you won’t need any of these documents if the estate consists of:

  • Cash and personal possessions such as cars and jewellery
  • Property that is joint-owned with a living person
  • Bank accounts that are joint-owned with a living person
  • Debts that are greater in value than the assets
  • Life insurance policies and pension benefits

How long does it take to get probate or letters of administration?

When there are no complications with your application for letters of administration, you could receive authorisation to proceed as an administrator in 3 to 5 weeks. When there are complications, however, this process can take longer.

What happens after visiting the Probate Registry?

After the interview at the Probate Registry, a letter stating how much inheritance tax the estate has incurred will be sent.

Once the inheritance tax has been paid, the letters of administration will be sent to the administrator. Within these documents you will find the gross worth and net worth of the estate.

With these documents, a photocopy of the will with an authentication stamp that proves that it is an official copy will also be sent.

The will and letters of administration are considered public documents, so they can be examined by anyone who requests to see them. As soon as you receive these documents, you can start acting as the administrator.

Find out more about managing an estate.