Difference Between Probate and Letters of Administration

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Understanding the legal and administrative processes after a person’s death can be confusing. The distribution and management of the deceased’s estate depend primarily on whether they left behind a valid will.

This guide will delve into both processes’ nuances, criteria, application procedures, and implications on control and duration under the Succession Act of 1981.

Key Differences Between Probate And Letters Of Administration

CriteriaProbateLetters of Administration
DefinitionLegal process of proving and registering the last will in the Supreme Court.Legal authority is given by the court to a suitable person to administer an estate where there’s no valid will or named executor.
When it’s applicableTypically, it requires an original will, death certificate, and other related documents.– No valid will be left by the deceased.
– Will exists, but no executor is named or able to act.
PurposeGives named executor(s) the legal right to manage the estate according to the will’s instructions.Allows an appointed administrator to collect and distribute assets based on intestacy laws.
Decision-making authorityExecutor follows the specific wishes of the deceased as mentioned in the will.The administrator follows intestacy rules, which may not reflect the deceased’s unexpressed wishes.
Process and documentationTypically, it requires an original will, a death certificate, and other related documents.It may require more evidence to establish the applicant’s relationship to the deceased and determine rightful heirs.

Probate Vs. Letters Of Administration: Which Offers More Control?

Both probate and letters of administration grant authority to someone to manage and distribute the deceased’s estate.

The level of control, however, is different in each case, depending on whether there’s a valid will. Here’s a comparison:


  • Source of Control: The executor is bound by the deceased’s last will. The will typically provides specific instructions on how the estate should be managed and distributed.
  • Executor’s Role: While the executor does have significant responsibilities and control in administering the estate, their primary duty is to adhere to the deceased’s wishes as stated in the will. They must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and line with the directions provided in the will.
  • Flexibility: The executor’s control is limited by the specific directives in the will. The executor may have less flexibility if the will is explicit and detailed. However, there might be some discretion in interpretation if there are ambiguous or general clauses.

Also read: Are Probate Wills Public Record?

Letters of Administration:

  • Source of Control: When there’s no valid will or no named executor willing or able to act, the court grants letters of administration to a suitable person, usually the next of kin. The laws of intestacy of the respective state or territory dictate the management and distribution of the estate.
  • Administrator’s Role: The appointed administrator has the authority to manage the estate, but their decisions must align with the intestacy laws. They cannot decide on a personal whim how assets will be distributed.
  • Flexibility: The administrator does not have the flexibility to deviate from intestacy laws, even if they believe that a different distribution might better reflect the deceased’s unexpressed wishes. The statutory guidelines restrict their control.

Regarding adhering to the deceased’s wishes, Probate offers more control, as it involves following the explicit wishes of the deceased as mentioned in their will.

In independent decision-making, Both processes restrict the decision-maker from following the will or intestacy laws.

However, there might be slightly more discretion in the case of ambiguous or general clauses in a will than with the rigid intestacy laws.

Ultimately, the presence of a valid and clear will is the best way to ensure that the deceased’s wishes are carried out.

Without a will, control over the distribution of the estate defaults to the predetermined intestacy laws, which might not necessarily reflect the deceased’s desires.

How Long Do Probate And Letters Of Administration Last?

Both probate and letters of administration provide authority to deal with a deceased person’s estate.

The length of time that the processes of probate and letters of administration take can vary based on the complexity of the estate and other factors.

Duration of the Process


The time it takes to obtain a Grant of Probate depends on various factors like the size and complexity of the estate, whether the will is contested, and the efficiency of the executor. On average, if everything is straightforward, obtaining the Grant of Probate may take 3 – 6 months after applying.

Letters of Administration

Similarly, the time to obtain Letters of Administration can vary based on factors such as identifying eligible next of kin, potential disputes among relatives, and the complexity of the estate.

It might take 6 – 12 months to obtain letters of administration, especially if there’s uncertainty or disputes regarding who should administer the estate.

Validity of the Grant

Once issued, the Grant of Probate and Letters of Administration are generally valid indefinitely. They don’t “expire” in a traditional sense.

However, financial institutions and other entities might be hesitant to recognize very old grants without further assurances or documentation, especially if a significant amount of time has passed since the grant was issued and the estate has yet to be administered.

Completion of Administration

The time it takes to finalize the administration of the estate (i.e., settle debts and distribute assets) after receiving the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration can vary significantly.

Small, straightforward estates might be finalized in a few months, while more complex estates or those with disputes can take years.

It’s worth noting that there are often statutory time frames within which certain actions related to the estate should be taken.

For instance, there might be specific timelines for publishing notices, lodging tax returns, or distributing assets.

Executors and administrators should be aware of these requirements and ensure they comply.

Talk to our letter of administration or probate lawyer for more details.

What Is the Difference Between Probate and Letters of Administration?

Understanding the distinctions between probate and letters of administration can be pivotal in estate management.

At Walker Pender, we simplify these complexities for you. If a loved one has passed and you’re navigating the legalities of asset distribution, we’re here to help.

Trust in our expert guidance to steer you through the right path.

Don’t leave your legal concerns to chance; choose Walker Pender for clarity and precision. Reach out today.

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