Lawyer explaining estate planning to a client

Common Terms in Wills and Trusts

Estate documents have specialized terms which may confuse those who are not in the legal field. A basic understanding of these terms can help eliminate some of the confusion during an otherwise very stressful time.

Understanding Legal Terms

During the probate process, many terms are utilized with the assumption that everyone understands what they mean. Some of these are defined here.

  • Testator - the deceased, the person who wrote the will
  • Executor, Executrix, Personal Representative - the testator names a person whom they want to handle their affairs after their death. Many times there will also be a successor executor named to handle everything if the named Executor is unable to accept the appointment.
  • Estate - the assets (and debts) left by the deceased
  • Inventory - a listing of all the assets (personal property, real estate, and money accounts) owned by the deceased
  • Beneficiary - the person or persons who will receive property or money from the estate. These may not be the same as the heirs of the deceased.
  • Probate - the court and process through which an estate is handled
  • Bequest - the gifts (property, personal property, or money) left to the beneficiaries
  • Heirs - the spouse and descendants of the deceased. These are determined by statute.
  • Codicil - a document which is read with the will. A codicil changes a provision in the original will.
  • Testate -when the deceased had a will
  • Intestate - dying without a will. When a person dies without a will, the intestacy statutes of the state will control the disposition of the estate.
  • Administrator - a person appointed by the probate court to handle the estate of a person who died without a will
  • Will contest - someone who objects formally and through the probate court about the contents of a will
  • Creditor - someone to whom the deceased owed a debt
  • Guardian - someone who is named to act as a caretaker of a minor child of the deceased. They may be named as guardian of the individual person, of the estate of the minor, or of both.
  • Trust - an entity formed either through the will or prior to death. A trust, if created prior to death, may keep the estate out of the probate process.
  • Grantor - the person who formed the trust
  • Closing the Estate - this is the final step in probate. Once all debts are paid and the assets are disbursed to the beneficiaries, this final step ends the probate process.

With a basic understanding of these terms, you may feel more comfortable with and less intimidated by the entire probate process.

Last Updated: July 12, 2017