Understanding probate words and terms is not easy for non-legal professionals. Most forms are written in legalese in which some lawyers don’t even understand. This article will help you understand common probate words and terms. Keep it as a handy reference guide when you come across a probate word or term you have not seen before.

What Does that Probate Word Mean?

Administrator – A probate administrator is appointed by a court to probate an estate when the will does not name an executor.  In California, family members and other interested parties may petition the court to be appointed as an administrator.

Beneficiary – A beneficiary is a person, business, institution, trustee, or an estate which receives benefits under a will. A person who inherits under a will is commonly called the beneficiary. This probate word can also be found in living trusts, transfer on death deeds and pay-on-death instruments.

Bond – A probate bond is similar to an estate bond. A probate bond makes sure that the wishes of the deceased as reflected in his/her will are carried out ethically and honestly.

Decedent – The decedent refers to a person who has passed away in which his/her will (or estate) is to be probated.

Devise – A devise refers to a gift of real property (also include personal property) by the last will and testament of the decedent.

Executor – An executor is the legal personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. The executor is responsible for winding up the deceased financial affairs. The executor must act with the highest degree of honesty, impartiality, and diligence. The executor has the opportunity to decline his/her role. This probate word is often referenced in a person’s Will or estate planning documents.

Gift & Estate Tax – A gift and estate tax is a tax imposed on the transference of property. The estate’s executor or administrator must pay the tax using assets from the estate.

Heir – An heir refers to a person who receives an interest in the ownership of personal or real property upon the decedent’s death. An heir is determined through intestate succession. An heir only receives property from the decedent’s estate if there is no valid will. This probate word is different from a “beneficiary”, although both receive property of a decedent’s estate.

Letters – This probate word is one of the most confusing in that it’s meaning is nothing similar to the common understanding of the word. First, it is not pertaining to a letter of any type. The term “Letters” refers to the legal authority granted by a California court in a probate proceeding. When “Letters” are issued, the court has granted a person permission to officially act as the personal representative of the probate estate. “Letters” refers to a document that serves as proof of your authority which can be presented to banks or other agencies as needed. Letters are only issued in a full probate proceeding. Keep in mind that banks will often tell a beneficiary or heir that they need “Letters” when, in fact, there may be other less expensive options to settle an estate.

Personal Property – Personal property refers to tangible and intangible assets of the decedent which is passed on to his/her beneficiaries or heirs. Personal property is “movable” property such as cars, furniture and back accounts. Real estate is not personal property but rather real property.

Probate Referee – This is another one of those strange words in probate world. No, the probate referee’s job is nothing like a referee in the sports world. In fact, they actually do not “referee” anything. Rather, the role of the probate referee is to appraise the property of an estate when a California probate is required. The probate referee is provided detailed information about the decedent’s assets and debts in a document called “Inventory and Appraisal”. They then officially value all non-cash assets, entering these values on the Inventory which is later filed with the probate court.

Real Property – Real property refers to real estate. This includes all land and structures which are firmly attached and integrated on the land.

Simplified Probate – Small California estates with assets worth less than $166,250 may go through the simplified probate process. The following conditions must be met to use the simplified probate process:

  • There are no pending administrative proceedings
  • The gross value of the decedent’s estate is less than $166,250

Testamentary – Testamentary instrument refers to a last testament and will. This probate word can often be found in estate planning documents.

Click here for a more in-depth, downloadable glossary of common probate words.

Estate planning and/or filing probate does not have to be expensive. Contact A People’s Choice for help in planning your estate with a will or living trust or probating an estate in California. We can help you prepare the legal documents without having to hire an expensive attorney! Call today at 800-747-1780.

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