This blog is directed towards estate executors and administrators.
Long, Long Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, I could call local banks, identify myself as a local attorney and get all sorts of information for my estate clients. Grandpa had passed away – please give me his account numbers, the value of the accounts, and, oh, by the way, could you give me his driver’s license and social security numbers?


The response would be, sure, we always want to help out local attorneys and the relatives of the recently & dearly departed.


Things have changed.


With the proliferation of internet scammers, identity thieves, and just about anything else you can imagine, banks, financial institutions, government agencies, real estate companies, oil and gas companies, creditor agencies, and any other entity you can imagine have become “super super careful.” If you are an executor or administrator of an estate, you are going to have to identify yourself with specificity and show, with specificity, your authority to conduct business on behalf of the decedent and the decedent’s estate.


This is not particularly hard, but it is particularly time-consuming.


A little bit of a review


When a person dies with a will, a proceeding is opened in a “probate court.” The will is identified and confirmed to be authentic, and then “admitted to probate.” An executor is designated by the probate court and “letters testamentary” are issued to that executor. These letters testamentary authorize the executor to take the necessary and appropriate steps to wind up the estate and deliver assets to the designated beneficiaries under a will. This involves closing bank accounts, financial institutions accounts, credit union accounts, and dealing with government entities, and gathering the assets and distributing them to the designated beneficiaries. Without seeing the “letters testamentary” these institutions will not accommodate you – the risks on them are too great. The institutions may have their own, additional, requirements: they may want to see the executor’s driver license; want a copy of the will or death certificate, or both; and require the executor to secure an IRS Tax ID for the estate. While some of the requirements are inane and others seemingly punitive, it is almost always quicker to “just do it.” The alternative is to take the institution before the probate court, which is expensive and even more time consuming – and the court is likely to say, in the end, “just to it.”


From time to time, clients ask about probating a will as a muniment of title. In short, that procedure provides that the will is authenticated by the probate court without an executor being designated (and therefore no letters testamentary). While such a process may be a little cheaper, legal fee wise, this approach is usually impractical because without the “letters testamentary” designating an executor, no one is able to close bank accounts, financial institution accounts, and the like.


Theoretically, at least, if a person dies without a will (intestate), an administration should be unnecessary. Affidavits of heirship may be all that are necessary. But, again, because of scammers and identity thieves, it is becoming increasingly common to establish a court approved administration for the decedent and his or her estate and have a court designate an administrator to wind up the estate and secure and distribute assets.
Fortunately, the Texas system for probating a will and establishing an administration are about as simple as can be imagined. Our legislature has done a good job “keeping things simple,” unlike the legislatures of some neighboring states. But there is a cost to establishing truth and authenticity – it is just not free.


In summary


Until the world and our governments take on internet scammers and identity thieves (and I see no evidence that this will occur anytime soon), institutions, especially financial institutions and banks and government agencies, are going to be “targets.” By necessity, they will become more and more defensive in order to protect not only their customers but also themselves. This will mean more work for executors and administrators. Being an executor or administrator will not be an honor – it will be a job!


Do not blame your lawyer – put the blame where it belongs – on internet scammers and identity thieves. Until this very real crisis is resolved, the costs of winding up an estate will continue to rise.


by Jack M. Wilhelm


Edward Wilhelm and Jack Wilhelm provide tremendously high value legal assistance to a large number of very desirable clients.


THE WILHELM LAW FIRM, 5524 Bee Caves Road, Suite B5, Austin, TX 78746; (512) 236 8400 (phone); (512) 236 8404 (fax);


DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended to and does not offer legal advice, legal recommendations, or legal representation on any matter. You need to consult an attorney in person for legal advice regarding your individual situation.