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Common Probate and Trust Legal Terms


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


The person who inherits.


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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