Say What? Will Terminology Defined
Lawyers 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:
- Testate: Dying with a valid will.
- Intestate: Dying without a valid will.
- Intestacy statutes: State laws that dictate how to distribute the assets of a person who dies intestate.
- Testator (Testatrix): A man (woman) who makes a will.
- 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.
- Codicil: A supplement, amendment, or addition to a will executed with all the formalities of the will itself.
- Attested will: A written will signed by the maker in front of witnesses, who also sign the will.
- Holographic will: A will that is completely in the handwriting of the testator.
- Decedent: Someone who is no longer alive.
- Administrator: A personal representative appointed by the probate court to oversee the winding up of the decedent’s affairs.
- Executor: A personal representative appointed by the testator to administer the estate in accordance with his last wishes.
- Beneficiary: A person or entity eligible to receive benefits under the will.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.