FAQs About Probate

Say What? Probate Terminology Defined

by Rania Combs

Attorneys use a lot of words when talking about probate. However, in my conversations with friends and clients, I discovered that many people outside the legal community don’t understand what we’re talking about.

Below are definitions of some common probate terms:

  1. Probate: Probate is the legal process of proving the validity of a will. Probate is also commonly understood to refer to the legal process in which the estate of a decedent is administered.
  2. Decedent: Someone who is no longer alive.
  3. Probate Court: The court with jurisdiction over the probate of wills and the administration of estates.
  4. Will: A legal document that contains instructions outlining who should receive a person’s property after they die. Typically, Wills also names guardians for minor children and appoint an executor to administer the estate in accordance with the decedent’s last wishes.
  5. Testator (Testatrix): A man (woman) who makes a will.
  6. Beneficiary:  A person or entity eligible to some benefit under a will.
  7. Heir: A person who is statutorily entitled to inherit property from the decedent who does not leave a valid Will
  8. Intestate: A person who does without a will.
  9. Intestate succession: The statutory scheme addressing who inherits the property of someone who dies intestate.
  10. Administrator (Administratrix): A personal representative appointed by the Court to oversee the administration of an estate.
  11. Exectutor (Executrix): A personal representative appointed by the testator to administer the estate in accordance with his last wishes.
  12. Independent Administration:  A probate proceeding in which a personal representative of an estate is able to administer an estate with very little court supervision.
  13. Dependent Administration: A probate proceeding in which the personal representative of the estate must seek and receive approval from the probate court for tasks related to the administration of an estate.
  14. Letters Testamentary: A legal document issued by a probate court that authorizes the executor named in a decedent’s will to manage and administer the decedent’s estate.
  15. Letters of Administration: A legal document issued by the court authorizing an administrator to manage and distribute the assets of an estate when there is no valid will.
  16. Probate assets: Assets such as real estate, vehicles, and bank accounts that a decedent owns at death for which there is no designated beneficiary or joint owner with right of survivorship.
  17. Non-probate assets: Assets that pass to a designated beneficiary without going through the probate process. This includes life insurance policies, pension plans, 401(k) plans, IRA’s, joint bank accounts, payable-on-death accounts, and property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship
  18. Estate: All the property the decedent owned at the time of their death.
  19. Estate tax: The estate tax is a tax imposed on the transfer of a “taxable estate” to a decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries.
  20. Guardian: A person granted full legal and personal custody of a minor child.
  21. Guardian ad litem: A person appointed by the court to represent and protect the interests of someone who is underage or incompetent.
  22. Self-proving affidavit: An affidavit that affirms a testator properly signed a Will in the presence of two witnesses who observed the testator signing his will and heard him or her say that it was his or her last will and testament. A self-proving affidavit eliminates the need for witnesses to appear in a probate proceeding to affirm the validity of the will.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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    March 26, 2010 at 2:57pm

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