FAQs About Wills

Say What? Will Terminology Defined

by Rania Combs

questionLawyers use a lot of words when talking about wills, assuming that everyone knows their meaning. But from talking to friends and clients, I realized that many people outside the legal community don’t understand what we’re talking about. Below are some common commonly used terms defined:

  1. Testate: Dying with a valid will.
  2. Intestate: Dying without a valid will.
  3. Intestacy statutes: State laws that dictate how to distribute the assets of a person who dies intestate.
  4. Testator (Testatrix): A man (woman) who makes a will.
  5. Will: A legal document that contains instructions about how a person’s property should be divided after death. Typically, a will also names a guardian for minor children, and appoints an executor to administer the estate in accordance with the decedent’s last wishes.
  6. Codicil: A supplement, amendment, or addition to a will executed with all the formalities of the will itself.
  7. Attested will: A written will signed by the maker in front of witnesses, who also sign the will.
  8. Holographic will: A will that is completely in the handwriting of the testator.
  9. Decedent: Someone who is no longer alive.
  10. Administrator: A personal representative appointed by the probate court to oversee the winding up of the decedent’s affairs.
  11. Executor: A personal representative appointed by the testator to administer the estate in accordance with his last wishes.
  12. Beneficiary: A person or entity eligible to receive benefits under the will.
  13. 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.
  14. Non-Probate assets: Assets that do not have to pass through probate to be transferred, including 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.
  15. Per stirpes: Method of distributing an estate to a group of individuals. If a member of the group predeceases the testator, his share is distributed to his descendants.

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