You Have a Future Worth Protecting
Get Legal Help Today

Probate Terms to Know

Going through any legal process can make you feel like you're learning a new language. At the Perrin Law Firm, we understand the importance of clear communication and education, especially when it comes to any emotionally-charged process like probate.  

To help demystify this process, our estate law team has put together a list of essential probate terms every individual should know.  

A Glossary of Probate Terms Everyone Should Know 

Probate is a legal process through which a deceased person's estate is properly distributed to heirs and designated beneficiaries, and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. It involves the authentication of the deceased’s will (if one exists) and a detailed enumeration, appraisal, and distribution of the decedent's assets under court supervision.  

In cases where no will exists, probate ensures assets are distributed according to state laws. This process serves as a means to retitle the deceased's assets to the beneficiaries, ensuring legal clarity and fairness in the distribution of the estate. 

Decedent refers to the individual who has passed away and whose estate is being considered in the probate process.  

Intestate refers to the condition of dying without a will. When a person dies intestate, their estate is subject to intestate succession laws, which vary by state.  

These laws outline a default plan for distributing the deceased's assets, typically favoring close relatives such as spouses, children, parents, and siblings.  

In Texas, the hierarchy begins with the surviving spouse and children. If there are no direct descendants, the estate can then pass to parents, siblings, and further extended family in a predetermined order. For instance, if an individual dies intestate leaving a spouse and children, the spouse inherits one-third of the personal property and a life estate in one-third of the real estate, with the children inheriting everything else.  

The intestate process aims to mimic what most individuals would have decided had they drafted a will, ensuring that the assets of the deceased are allocated to their next of kin. However, without a will to express the deceased's specific wishes, the distribution might not reflect their personal relationships or preferences, making estate planning an essential task for anyone looking to have a say in the posthumous handling of their assets. 

Learn How We Can Help

Reach Out Today

Testate refers to the state or condition of having made and left a valid will. If an individual dies testate, it means they have prepared at least one legal document detailing how their estate should be distributed among their heirs and beneficiaries after their death.  

This document, typically referred to as a will, allows individuals to specify not only who should receive their assets but also appoint guardians for any minor children and make arrangements for their care. The advantage of dying testate is that it provides clear instructions for the distribution of the estate, potentially minimizing disputes among survivors and ensuring that the decedent's wishes are respected and followed. 

Executor is an individual appointed in a will or, if there's no will, by a court to oversee the distribution of an estate's assets according to the deceased's wishes or state law.  

An executor is responsible for managing the probate process, which includes tasks like collecting and valuating the estate's assets, paying off debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the rightful heirs. The role of an executor is critical to ensuring that the estate is settled correctly and efficiently, often requiring a keen understanding of legal and financial matters. Executors are chosen based on their trustworthiness and capability to manage the estate's affairs, embodying the deceased's trust in their judgment and integrity. 

Administrator is similar to an executor but is appointed by the court in cases where there is no will, or the will does not specify an executor.  

An administrator performs tasks necessary to settle the deceased's estate, including gathering and distributing assets, paying debts, and filing final taxes. The main difference between an executor and an administrator lies in their appointment; an executor is named by the deceased in a will, while an administrator is appointed by a court in the absence of a will or an executor. 

Letters of Administration are legal documents issued by a probate court that grant an administrator the authority to manage and distribute a deceased person's estate under intestate laws.  

These are necessary when the deceased has not left a will, or the appointed executor is unable or unwilling to serve. Letters of Administration empower the administrator to act on behalf of the estate, including collecting and valuing assets, paying debts, and distributing the estate to rightful heirs according to the law. 

Heir refers to a person legally entitled to receive a part of the deceased's estate under the state's intestate succession laws if the deceased did not leave a will.  

Heirs typically include the deceased's spouse, children, and other relatives. The specific rights and precedence of heirs can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another but generally follow a recognizable order of kinship. 

Beneficiaries are people/entities designated in a will or a life insurance policy to receive assets or benefits.  

Unlike heirs, beneficiaries are named specifically by the deceased in estate planning documents or on financial accounts and insurance policies. Beneficiaries can include family members, friends, charities, or trusts, and the assets they are entitled to receive are usually outlined explicitly. 

Estate encompasses all the property, assets, and debts that a person leaves behind at death.  

The estate includes tangible items like real estate, cars, jewelry, and personal belongings, as well as intangible assets such as bank accounts, stocks, and life insurance policies. Managing an estate involves paying any debts and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs or beneficiaries according to the will or state law. 

Probate Court is a special court that handles matters related to the probate process, including the authentication of wills, appointment of executors or administrators, and supervision of the distribution of the deceased's assets.  

The probate court's role is to ensure that the deceased's estate is settled according to their wishes (as expressed in a will) or according to state laws (if there is no will). 

Work With an Attorney Who Cares 

Understanding these terms is the first step in gaining a clearer insight into what can often be an overwhelming legal process.  

At the Perrin Law Firm, our estate and probate attorney is committed to guiding our clients through the intricacies of probate with compassion and expertise. Whether you're drafting a will or preparing for the probate process, our team is here to provide the support and legal advice you need. 

Contact our lawyer at the Perrin Law Firm today to put experienced, compassionate support in your corner. Our firm in Clear Lake City, Texas, serves clients throughout League City, Deer Park, Friendswood, Pasadena, Seabrook, and the Greater Houston Area.