If you are ever in a meeting with your estate planning attorney, or reviewing some documents or reading material your attorney asked you to look at, you may sometimes come across specific words that you’ve never heard before. It’s sometimes easy for estate planning professionals to forget that many of the words they use are not commonly encountered by most people. Here are a few examples of some estate planning and probate terms that you may come across.
A testator is simply a person who makes a will, and both men and women can be referred to as testators. However, the term “testatrix” is sometimes used to refer to a woman who has made a will, while testator refers to males. Both terms refer to a person who has created a last will and testament.
If a person dies without making a will, that person is said to have died intestate. However, even a person who makes a will can also die intestate if a court later determined that the will fails in some key part required by state law. These wills are known as an invalid will. The closely related term, “intestacy,” refers to the condition of an estate (the property the person owned) left behind by a person who died intestate.
A beneficiary is a designated person who inherits property from an estate. If the deceased has left behind a will or trust, the beneficiary will inherit as the will or trust direct
If a will is declared invalid or there is no will, the persons who will inherit are called heirs or heirs at law and are determined by intestacy laws which are statutes passed by the state legislature. These laws determine who inherits property when there is no will, and are sometimes known as laws of intestate succession. In general, these laws presume that a person intends to leave his or her estate to their legal spouses and/or blood relatives . For this reason, it is imperative that persons who want to leave their estates to others, such as friends, non-blood related persons, including non-spouse cohabitants and step-children, or charities, take the time to create a valid will or trust.