Glossary of terms

Common Probate and Trust Legal Terms

Abatement: When the estate does not have enough remaining property to pay each beneficiary in full, an abatement is the lesser amount heirs may receive.

Administrator: Also called an executor, the person in charge of taking care of the necessary tasks to settle the estate.

Affidavit: A confirmed, written statement that can be used as evidence.

Appraisal: A valuation of the real estate, business or personal property to determine the value of an estate.

Appreciated property: Real, personal, or intangible assets that have a larger value now than when originally acquired.

Beneficiary: A person (or entity who inherits, or benefits, from a will.

Conditional Bequest: When the beneficiary must fulfill certain requirements or perform certain acts to receive property from an estate.

Decedent: The person who passed away.

Durable power of attorney:  A power of attorney that does not terminate when the person who made the power of attorney becomes incapacitated.

Escheat: Reversion of a person’s property to the state when no beneficiaries can be found.

Estate planning: The process by which an individual designs a strategy to divide up his or her estate after death. During estate planning, the individual will execute a will, create trusts, and plan for tax breaks and liquidity as needed.

Estate tax: – A tax based on state law which imposed on a decedent’s transfer of property at death.  While Virginia has no estate tax, Washington, DC has a progressive estate tax and Maryland has a flat rate estate tax.

Fiduciary: A person who holds a legal or ethical duty in relation to the estate; the administrator or executor is also a fiduciary.

Heir: The person who inherits.

Intestate: When a person dies without a will. In those cases, the Court will decide who inherits based on the descendants.

Life estate: The interest in a property where the beneficiary doesn’t have full property rights, but can only use the property during his or her lifetime.

Power of attorney: Written authorization that allows one individual to act as an agent or attorney-in-fact for another. The scope of authority is specified in the document and may be limited to financial matters or health decisions.

Probate Administration: The process by which a will is filed with the probate court and the administrator follows the directions in the will paying off creditors and distributing the remaining property.

Probate Litigation: When someone who has an interest in the will or estate brings the dispute to the probate court.

Omitted Spouse: A surviving spouse may still be able to inherit from a deceased spouse if the marriage happened after the will was executed.

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