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Probate Terms to Know

David W. Walker Attorney At Law Dec. 12, 2023

Toy Wooden House and Sticky Note Written with ProbateAs a probate attorney, I know that dealing with the loss of a loved one can be an emotionally challenging time. It's a period filled with grief and many questions about the future.  

Then, when you add the intricacies of probate to this mix, it can all feel overwhelming. Probate is often riddled with complex legal terms that can seem like a foreign language to the average person. 

That's why I'm here to help. I believe that navigating through the probate process shouldn't be another pain point during this already difficult time. The legal jargon should not cloud your understanding or make the process more complicated than it needs to be. 

I'll break down some of these technical probate terms for you. My aim is to bring clarity to these terms, making them more understandable and less intimidating. We'll explore key probate terms, from "Probate" to "Antilapse Statute" and everything in between. 

20 Probate Terms to Know 

  1. Probate: To kick things off, I have to start with the most fundamental term. Probate is a legal process of settling the estate of a deceased person. It involves identifying and gathering the assets of the deceased, paying off any outstanding debts or taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the rightful beneficiaries or heirs. 

  1. Estate: This refers to all the assets, property, and debts that a person leaves behind after their death. It can include real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, and more. 

  1. Decedent: This term refers to an individual who has passed away. In the context of probate, the decedent is the person whose estate is being handled. 

  1. Will: A will is a legal document that outlines how a person's assets and property should be distributed after their death. It's like a roadmap guiding the distribution of your estate. 

  1. Testator: A testator is the person who creates and signs a will, outlining their wishes for the distribution of their assets after death. If you've created a will, you're the testator. 

  1. Beneficiary: A beneficiary is an individual or entity named in a will or trust who will receive assets or property from the decedent's estate. They're the people or organizations you've chosen to inherit your assets. 

  1. Capacity: Capacity refers to an individual's legal ability to make decisions and understand the consequences of those decisions. In probate law, it's crucial to determine if the decedent had the capacity to create a valid will. 

  1. Intestate Succession: Intestate succession comes into play when a person dies without a valid will. State laws dictate how the assets will be distributed among the decedent's heirs. 

  1. Codicil: A codicil is a legal document that makes minor changes to an existing will without completely revoking and replacing it. It's like adding a postscript to your will. 

  1. Power of Attorney: A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone the authority to act on your behalf in legal and financial matters. It's like giving someone else the keys to your financial life. 

  1. Guardianship: Guardianship is a legal arrangement where an appointed guardian has the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person who is incapacitated or unable to care for themselves. This can include minor children or adults with disabilities. 

  1. Trust: A trust is a legal arrangement where a trustee holds and manages assets for beneficiaries according to the terms specified in the trust document. Think of it as a box where you can place your assets for safekeeping. Assets held in a trust typically do not go through probate. 

  1. Trustee: A trustee is the person or entity responsible for managing and administering a trust according to the terms specified in the trust document. They're like the manager of the trust 'box'. 

  1. Executor/Administrator: An executor or administrator is the person appointed in a will to carry out the instructions outlined in the will. They're responsible for managing and distributing the decedent's assets. 

  1. Letters Testamentary: These are legal documents issued by the probate court that give the executor authority to act on behalf of the estate and carry out their responsibilities. 

  1. Creditor: A creditor is a person or entity to whom the decedent owed money at the time of their death. Part of probate involves identifying and paying off any outstanding debts to creditors. 

  1. Estate Tax: Estate tax is a tax imposed on the transfer of property from a deceased person to their beneficiaries. It's based on the value of the estate and can significantly impact the amount of inheritance received by beneficiaries. 

  1. Augmented Estate: The augmented estate is used to calculate the share of an estate a surviving spouse may claim and is generally the sum of all the deceased spouse's property (minus exemptions and debts), the value of large gifts the decedent made shortly before death, and all of the surviving spouse's property. It's a way to ensure your spouse is provided for after your passing. 

  1. Transfer-on-Death (TOD): A TOD designation allows certain assets, such as bank accounts or securities, to pass directly to a designated beneficiary upon the owner's death without going through probate. 

  1. Antilapse Statute: This is a state law that provides that property intended for a deceased beneficiary may pass to that beneficiary's heirs under certain circumstances. It's a way to ensure your intended beneficiaries receive their inheritance, even if they pass away before you do. 

Get the Support You Deserve During Probate 

Remember, these terms are just the tip of the iceberg, and probate law can be complex. But don't worry, I'm here to help you navigate it. If you have any questions or need further clarification, don't hesitate to reach out.  

I'm here to help clients throughout Columbia, Fulton, Boonville, and Jefferson City. Together, we can make the probate process as clear and straightforward as possible. Contact me at David W. Walker Attorney At Law when you’re ready to talk about your legal matter.