Let’s discuss how, why, and how long it takes to get “fresh” Letters Testamentary in New York. Fresh letters simply means that they are newly dated. Most of the time, probate takes months or even years, and during that time, you may need to get fresh copies of the letters to use.
Do letters of testamentary expire?
One question we get is “do the letters of testamentary expire?” Technically, no, they don’t expire. It’s not as if your executorship has ended and you need to renew it. Rather, letters are a certificate proving you are still the executor. For example, if you walk into a bank with your letters that are over a year old and you want to close the account, the bank will very likely accept them. In the last year a lot could have happened – the court could have removed you as the executor, the letters could have been suspended, or there could have been other issues. They want letters that have been issued within the past 30 days (or in some cases 60 days) to prove that yes, you are still the executor, and all is good.
How to renew letters testamentary
In the past, getting newly updated letters was relatively easy. You could walk into the court with $6 and they would simply print the letters and you would walk out with them. You could even mail in a request and get them back within a reasonable timeframe. The exception would be if the court is missing items in the probate file, such as affidavits, inventories, etc. It is the court’s leverage to make you fix any issues before they give you fresh letters. This doesn’t mean the letters have been revoked; it’s just the court’s opportunity to get something they need in return for something you need.
Fresh letters delays in New York in 2023
Now, getting quick letters are not happening. The court no longer allows you to visit the counter or walk in with your money and request. You have to upload a request for fresh letters online. Sounds easy, right? Here’s the issue – the courts are at least three months behind processing online filings. So, for example, requests uploaded in December are finally being processed in March. This doesn’t account for anything you may need to fix, which will add even more back and forth time.
If you have something important you need letters for (a real estate closing, for example), then you will need to plan well in advance for this. One option is to order letters right as the property is listed, possibly even before. You do run the risk of actually getting the letters quickly and them being outdated before the closing. In which case, you would need to order them again. You could get around this by ordering them every month or every other month until the closing to be sure that you have them. It may seem wasteful, but unfortunately, not having the letters could delay the closing (which is much more expensive than a few extra copies of letters).
Probate isn’t a quick process as it is, which is why it’s best to set expectations early in the process. Check out my book, “How Probate Works,” and when you get to the chapter on delays, just add on more time. Unfortunately, that’s the way things are right now.
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