Administrator: Someone a probate court appoints to act on behalf of an estate when the will does not name an executor or the named executor cannot or is unwilling to serve.
Affidavit: A written statement, signed under oath in front of a notary public.
Ancillary Probate: A probate proceeding conducted in another state from the one the deceased person resided in at the time of death.
Beneficiary: A person or organization that is legally entitled to receive property under a will, trust, life insurance policy, or other arrangement.
Codicil: A document that supplements an existing will. A codicil may explain, change, or revoke provisions in a will. It must be signed in front of witnesses, just like a will.
Conservator: Someone appointed by a court to manage the affairs of a person who cannot make decisions about day-to-day care and other matters.
Custodian: A person named to manage property left to a minor under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. The custodian uses the property for the minor’s health, education, and support until the minor reaches the age at which state law says he or she must receive it.
Decedent: A deceased person.
Devisee: The person to whom lands or other real property are devised or given by will.
Durable Power of Attorney: A power of attorney that remains effective even if the person who created it (called the “principal”) becomes incapacitated. The person authorized to act (called the “agent or “attorney-in-fact”) can make decisions on behalf of the principal. There are two kinds of power of attorney: financial and health care.
Executor: The person named in the will and appointed by a court to wind up the affairs of a deceased person. In some states that person is called the “personal representative.”
Federal Estate Tax: A federal tax levied on estates of a certain size.
Fiduciary: Someone who owes a special duty of honesty and fairness to someone else. For example, an executor owes a fiduciary duty to the people who are entitled to the deceased person”s property.
Guardian: An adult who has legal authority, granted by a court, to raise a minor or be responsible for the minor’s property.
Heir: Someone entitled to inherit another person’s property.
Holographic will: A handwritten will, signed but usually not witnessed. Holographic wills are valid in about half the states. California recognizes holographic wills.
Intestate: The condition of dying without a will.
Intestate Succession: Inheritance under state law, in the absence of a valid will. In most states, the surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and next of kin inherit, in that order.
Issue: Direct descendants — children, grandchildren, and so on.
Irrevocable Trust: An irrevocable trust may not be changed by the trustee or the beneficiaries of the trust.
Lawful issue: As used in a will, direct descendants who were born to a married couple.
Legatee: The person to whom a legacy in a will is given.
Letters of Administration: The document a probate court issues to the administrator of an estate, authorizing him or her to act on behalf of the estate.
Letters Testamentary: The formal instrument of authority and appointment given to an executor by the property court, empowering him/her to manage, spend, distribute and sell the assets of an estate.
Lineal descendant: A direct descendant. The same as “Issue.”
Living Trust: A trust created during the grantor”s lifetime, usually to avoid probate.
Order for Probate: Court appointment or confirmation of the personal representative (executor, administrator, etc.).
Personal Representative: Another term for executor or administrator.
Pretermitted Heir: A child (or the child of a deceased child) who is either not named or not provided for in the will. In certain circumstances, such children may be entitled to a share of the estate.
Probate: Court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid.
Probate Administrator: Entity, or person, designated by the State to act when the decedent died intestate and without living relatives.
Probate real estate sale: Means the transfer of legal title (ownership) of real property from the estate of the person who has died to his or her beneficiaries, or to a buyer under the supervision of the court.
Probate referee: Before real property can be sold through probate, it must be appraised. This is done by a probate referee. In California, probate referees are appointed by the State Controller and assigned to a particular case by the court clerk. They are paid for this service directly by the estate, usually a percentage of the appraised value.
Real Property (also called real estate): Land and things permanently attached to land, such as houses.
Residue: The remaining part of a decedent’s estate after the payments of debts and legacies (also referred to as the “residuary estate”).
Residuary Beneficiary: The will beneficiary who receives any property not specifically left to beneficiaries by the will or other method.
Revocable Trust: A trust which can be amended or revoked by the person(s) who established the trust.
Testate: One who has made a will; one who dies leaving a will.
Testator/Testatrix: One who has made a will.
Totten Trust: A bank account that is held in trust for a beneficiary, who inherits any money in the account when the account owner dies, without probate. Works just like a payable-on-death bank account.
Trust: An arrangement under which one person, a trustee, manages property for a beneficiary.
Trustee: The person who manages assets held in trust.
Will: A document in which a person directs who is to inherit his or her property at death.
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