In this case the Surrogate’s Court considered whether the actions of a person who petitioned the court for letters of administration amounted to dishonesty, making him ineligible under Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act § 707.
An executor or estate administrator is the person who is responsible for managing an estate after the death of the testator. The person is referred to as an executor if he (or she) was named in the decedent’s will. In doing so the testator is merely nominating the person. The nominated person must still petition the Surrogate’s Court to receive “letters testamentary.” Letters testamentary is a legal document granting the authority to manage the estate and ultimately distribute its assets. If someone other than the person named in the will wants to be manage the estate and become the estate administrator, then he must petition the court for “letters of administration.” Without letters, whether the person was named executor in the will or not, he has no authority over the decedent’s estate. The court will only grant letters to petitioners who are eligible.
In Walsh, a brother and sister engaged in probation litigation related to the estate of their father. While the father nominated the sister to serve as the executor of his estate, the son petitioned the Surrogate’s Court for letters of administration. The dispute between the siblings centered on two main issues: whether the brother was dishonest about having possession of the father’s 2000 will and whether the daughter was in possession of property owned by the father’s estate.