WayForth is a downsizing, senior move management, and estate cleanout company. We offer our probate resources as support for families settling an estate, but we do not offer legal services. If you'd like more estate settlement information, please download our probate workbook, How to Settle an Estate Without Losing your Mind or Breaking Apart Your Family.
Managing an estate during probate can be an overwhelming task, especially when trying to navigate the legal terminology while immersed in grief. Attorneys and courts toss around words like “decedent” and “intestate” regularly, but these are often new, and confusing, terms for family members trying to settle an estate themselves.
To help families better understand the probate process, we’ve translated many of the common probate terms into plain English. Even so, some of the concepts can be tricky, so read carefully and keep this vocabulary list handy so you can interpret the legalese while settling an estate.
Decedent – deceased person.
Deed – legal document that confirms ownership or partial ownership of a property, or transfers that ownership.
Deed of Trust – a document for transferring property to a trustee, who holds it as security for a loan (debt) between a borrower and lender. This document is used to finance real estate purchases.
Estate – property, including real estate, personal property and any other assets, owned by the deceased at the time of death.
Executor – the person named by the maker of a will to administer the estate and carry out the instructions of the will.
Fiduciary – a person in a position of trust with respect to another’s property, a general term used to refer to an executor, administrator, or trustee.
Heir/Heir at Law – person who inherits, or who has a right of inheritance in, the property of someone who died without a will – usually a spouse or blood relation.
Intestate – dying without a will.
Intestate Succession – the order, defined by state law, in which a spouse or blood relatives are in line to inherit property from someone who died without a will.
Inventory – detailed list of all assets owned by someone at the date of their death and the value of for each asset.
Letter of Testamentary – a legal document issued by the court referencing the appointment of an executor or administrator of the estate, and granting permission for that personal representative to administer the estate. (Sometimes referred to as a Letter of Qualification.)
Personal Representative – person appointed by a court to settle the deceased’s estate; a general term used to mean either the executor or the administrator of the estate.
Probate – the court procedure whereby a will is officially filed with the court as a public record; also used to describe the legal process wherein a deceased person’s estate is administered.
Qualification – the process by which the court appoints someone to serve as executor or administrator of an estate.
Testate – dying with a will.
Testator – a person who makes a will.
Trust – a written document which allows a trustee to manage assets on behalf of a beneficiary/beneficiaries.
Will – a written document that a person creates before their death, which directs and specifies the management and distribution of their estate after death.