What is a Letter of Administration? (Qld)
A Letter of Administration is a document issued by the Probate Office of the Supreme Court of Queensland appointing someone to manage the estate of a deceased person. Distinct from a Grant of Probate, a grant of letters of administration is issued when the deceased died intestate (that is, without a will), partially intestate, or without appointing an executor in their will. If there is a nominated executor but they need to be replaced, then this particular grant will authorise someone to take over as administrator. This article defines the function of the Letter of Administration and identifies the circumstances when it is necessary to apply for this particular grant.
Letters of Administration
A grant of Letters of Administration is a short document. It confirms that a specific person acts on behalf of the estate of a deceased who was domiciled in Queensland at the time of their death (or who owned property in the state). An administrator will often be required to present a Letter of Administration before financial institutions will release assets of the deceased estate.
Who can Apply for Letters of Administration?
In Queensland, only a potential beneficiary can apply for a Letter of Administration. If there are several potential beneficiaries, they can apply for joint Letters of Administration, submit competing applications, or one person can apply with the endorsement of the others.
The Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999 establishes the order that Letters of Administration are granted in Queensland. Letters of Administration are commonly granted to the closest relative of the deceased, usually a married or de-facto spouse, or if the deceased was unmarried or the spouse is unable to act, any child of the deceased. If no one from these categories is suitable or available, the other eligible family members are grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and first cousins. An eligible person living outside of Australia can appoint a solicitor to act on their behalf in discharging the duties of administration.
Despite this established hierarchy, the court may grant the authority to any member of the deceased’s family if it is in the best interests of the deceased estate. Where there is no next of kin prepared to apply for Letters of Administration, the court can appoint the Public Trustee, or another eligible person (including a creditor of the estate) to administrate the estate.
If probate is stalled while competing claims to act as administrator are assessed, the court may appoint a temporary special administrator to manage the estate in the interim. This special administrator does not have full authority over the estate, only the limited power necessary to safeguard the assets against loss or damage. This may be particularly important if the estate includes assets that need to continue to operate to maintain their full value, such as business interests. It would be contrary to the interests of the estate for these assets to be left in a legal limbo while the future beneficiaries fight over the right to administer the estate.
Anyone who is planning to apply for a grant of Letters of Administration must first publish a Notice of Intended Application on the Queensland Registry website and wait 14 days before submitting their application. In order to lodge the application, a person should have the original death certificate relating to the deceased estate, original will (if one exists), and the contact details of any other potential beneficiaries of the estate. The court typically takes up to three weeks to grant Letters of Administration but may take longer if the court asks for additional information.
How is an Administrator Different to an Executor?
Unlike an executor, who is guided primarily by the will of the deceased in accordance with the law, an administrator in Queensland manages the estate only according to the Succession Act 1981. Other than this difference, however, the administrator’s duties are much the same as those of the executor. They take account of the debts and the assets of the estate, lodge a final tax return on behalf of the deceased, and establish any necessary trusts. The administrator must also defend the estate in court against any contest from potential beneficiaries.
While the duties of executors and administrators are similar, the impact on the estate of the deceased can be immense. It is the difference between the estate being distributed by a chosen executor according to the wishes of the deceased, versus a court-appointed administrator giving away the belongings of the deceased according to a legislated order of inheritance. It may mean that someone the deceased was not close to in life inherits, and the person they were closest to misses out altogether.
A solicitor can help draft an application for a Letter of Administration, and work with the administrator throughout the probate process. If you have any other questions about Letters of Administration or need further legal advice, please call Armstrong Legal on 1300 038 223 or send us an email to make an appointment.