Recently, I’ve seen an increase in families seeking help for probating a relatives estate.  Many times what causes them to seek out a Michigan probate attorney is that they have tried to access a bank or other financial account and the financial institution is unwilling to give you access to the deceased person’s accounts without a copy of Letters of Authority.  So, what are Letters of Authority and why do these insist that you have them to access the account?

First, a little background about probate.  Probate is the court process that your “stuff” (real estate, bank accounts, etc.) go through when you pass away to the extent that you owned anything in your name when you died.  You see, while we are alive we buy/sell/transfer things with our signature.  But, after we’re gone, we can no longer sign to transfer our assets.  So, a Personal Representative is appointed during the probate court process, and the Personal Representative’s signature effectively substitutes for your own.  It is the Personal Representative’s signature that will be used to distribute the estate assets to the estate beneficiaries.

Back to our question – what are Letters of Authority?  Letters of Authority are the legal document signed by the probate court stating that the Personal Representative is the legal representative of the estate and authorized to sign on behalf of the estate.  That’s the main reason that financial institutions request Letters of Authority – because they want to make sure they are working with the legal representative of the estate, not just someone who *says* they are.  You can see what letters of Authority look like by clicking here.

That said, I’ve seen many situations where the financial institution’s request was not valid, such as when no probate estate is needed because the deceased person had a fully funded living trust.  If you find yourself frustrated in handling a probate estate or dealing with financial institutions where the deceased person had accounts, give us a call at 616-965-2221.

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and elder law attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy through caring and comprehensive planning.  This goes beyond merely planning for “stuff” – it’s about who you are and what is important to you.  He focuses on estate, charitable, and asset protection planning for all generations (“young” and “experienced”), the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses, medicaid planning, and medicaid qualification  He enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients centered and is honored to consider many client families as close friends.