Probate is the legal process for settling the estates for people who pass away. This includes authenticating a will (if there is one) and naming the executor, who will then distribute the deceased’s property and belongings. However, if there is no will, it’s up to the courts to handle these proceedings and make decisions about the estate. Essentially, this is a process that helps to ensure the proper beneficiaries receive the appropriate assets from the estate. Working with a probate attorney, like those at Blackford & Flohr, can help make this process smoother, but it can be complicated and confusing depending on how large the estate is and who is involved. To help make it easier, we’ve put together a glossary of important probate terms with which you should be familiar.
- Abate: End or cancel out.
- Abstract of judgement: Court document that states the amount of money the debtor owes the creditor, court costs, and interest rates on that amount.
- Accounts: The reports of administrators, executors, guardians, trustees, and conservators of transactions for the estate.
- Administrator: If someone dies without a will and doesn’t name a personal representative, or the personal representative cannot fulfill their duties, the court names an administrator for the estate. They serve like a personal representative/executor.
- Affidavit: A legal, written statement made under oath.
- Affinity: Relationship by marriage.
- Appraisal: An itemized evaluation of real or personal property.
- Appraiser: The person who completes an appraisal, estimating the value of the personal or real property of the estate.
- Attest: To witness, offer testimony, or certify a copy is genuine.
- Beneficiary: Someone named in a will who will receive assets designated to them by the deceased.
- Bequeath: The act of assigning personal property in a will.
- Bond: Posted by the administrator to ensure they will properly complete their duties, with a fee paid to the court if duties aren’t performed.
- Case file: All the papers that have been created throughout the probate process, bound together, and archived by a case number.
- Claims: Petitions, registers, accounts, or appeals filed with the court.
- Codicil: Addendum to a will.
- Common law: The body of unwritten law based on custom and precedent, rather than statute.
- Community property: Recognized in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington, all real and personal property acquired by a couple after marriage belongs to both husband and wife.
- Conservator: Person appointed to manage the affairs of one considered incompetent.
- Contest: To dispute a will.
- Decedent: The person who is deceased.
- Decree: Judicial decision of the court.
- Degree of relationship: The degree (generations) of two persons who descend from a common ancestor, but not one from the other.
- Devise: To transfer real property through a will.
- Devisee: The person receiving real property through a will.
- Devisor: The person who transfers real property through a will.
- Distributions: The way the deceased’s possessions are allocated.
- Divisions: Records in the probate process.
- Dower rights: Rights a non-owner spouse has in the real property.
- Entail: To limit the inheritance of real property to those in a specified line of descent.
- Escheat: When no one is entitled to inherit, property reverts to the state.
- Estate: Real and personal property left behind by the deceased.
- Executor: Once a personal representative presents a will to probate court, they become known as the executor. This person surveys all assets in the estate, pays all debts and taxes, and distributes assets to named beneficiaries.
- Fiduciary: A person who is holding assets for another, such as the executor, administrator, guardian, or trustee.
- Final account: Final accounting of the estate and how it’s distributed.
- Guardianship: If someone passes away and leaves behind a child younger than 18 but does not name a guardian to care for them, the court places the child in a guardianship with a guardian to care for them.
- Heir: A person who inherits property upon the death of the property owner.
- Intestate: Someone who dies without a will or trust in place.
- Intestate succession: When someone dies without a will, the probate court decides the distribution of assets according to state laws.
- Inventory: An itemized list of all property in the estate, and an appraisal of its value.
- Issue: Offspring, biological children, or legitimate descendants.
- Joint will: Will signed by two or more persons together.
- Legacy: A gift of real or personal property by way of a will.
- Letters of administration: Formal document from the court granting authority to handle the affairs of the estate.
- Letters testamentary: Document approving the appointment of an executor and authorizing the person to administer the estate.
- Lineal: Being in direct line from an ancestor.
- Minor: A person who has not yet reached full legal age.
- Notices: Published so that those with an interest in the estate, like creditors, have an opportunity to collect debts.
- Parcener: A joint heir.
- Per capita: Method of distributing an estate and each person receives an equal share.
- Personal Representative: Someone named in a will, typically a family member, trusted friend, or other close associate, who presents the will to the probate court and helps oversee its fulfillment.
- Petition: Application to a court requesting the right to settle an estate; typically, from the heirs, and begins the legal probate process.
- Probate: All matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of the estate, whether there’s a will.
- Probate fees: Paid to the attorney.
- Register of wills: The office with probate jurisdiction in some localities.
- Release: Documents that release an individual from an obligation, such as an executor or administrator.
- Settlement: Final accounting of the estate and how it was distributed.
- Testament: The document in which the testator distributes personal property.
- Testate: A person who dies with a will in place.
- Trustee: Person who holds legal title to property for the benefit of someone else.
- Unsolemn will: Will in which no executor is named.
- Widow’s allowance: State statute that governs the share of real or personal property which a widow can claim from her husband’s estate; typically supersedes other claims and debts to the estate.
- Will: Document in which the testator distributes real property
- Witness: Person who attests to actions or events.
If you need a clarification on probate terms and/or an attorney to help you through the probate process in Baltimore, MD, or a surrounding area, contact Blackford & Flohr today. Call 410-647-6677 or fill out our online contact form and we will be in touch with you soon.