Last Will & Testament Terms

by A.L. Kennedy
Knowing basic will-related legal terms makes dealing with the probate court less confusing.

Knowing basic will-related legal terms makes dealing with the probate court less confusing.

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When a loved one dies, seeing that his bills get paid and property gets distributed according to the will can be a confusing process. Wills have their own specific terms that are used to refer to the deceased person, his property, the people who are receiving that property, and more. Knowing the basic last will and testament terms can make the process less confusing.

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The "estate" is the sum total of the deceased person's property left behind when she dies. It may include real estate, bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks and bonds, and personal property like cars, furniture and jewelry, according to FindLaw.


The testator is the person who made and signed the will. The probate court may refer to "the testator's signature" or "the testator's wishes" when discussing the will. If the testator is a woman, she may also be referred to as the "testatrix."


Probate is the legal process by which a court determines whether a will is valid. It is also the process by which the court ensures that the estate is distributed according to the testator's wishes if there is a will, or according to the laws of the state if the will is invalid or if there is no will. Most states have courts known as probate courts that deal specifically with estates and family law.


The executor is the person responsible for carrying out the instructions in the will according to the testator's wishes. The executor is usually named in the will, but if there is no name or the executor named cannot or will not serve, the court will generally appoint an executor. A female executor may also be known as an "executrix."


A beneficiary is someone who receives property from a will, trust or other instrument such as a life insurance policy. The property may be given to the beneficiary directly, or held in trust for the beneficiary. The property itself may be known as a "devise." In some probate courts, a beneficiary is specifically one who receives property from a trust, while one who receives property from a will is known as a "devisee," according to the 'Lectric Law Library.


Someone who dies without a will or whose will the probate court has found invalid is said to have died intestate. This person's property is then distributed according to the laws of the state where he died. The laws that govern this process are known as intestacy laws.