Probate and estate planning law is rife with archaic, rarely encountered, and often confusing language. It’s quite common for people beginning the estate planning process to come across words they have never seen before.. Let’s take a look at some of the more commonly used, and least commonly understood, terms that you are likely to find when you are engaged in the probate or estate planning process.
Probate Estate. For estate planning purposes, an estate is all the property and interests you leave behind after you die. This includes all of your personal property, your real estate, investments, as well as any debts or obligations you have. Probate is a legal process that determines who owns this property after you die. Some of your property you leave behind, such as life insurance policies with a named beneficiary, do not have to go through probate and are not part of your probate estate. A probate estate, therefore, is all the property the probate court has to oversee.
Heirs. The term “heir” is not often used in estate planning situations because it can so easily be misconstrued. Under every state’s laws, certain people are entitled to receive property from you if you should die without leaving behind a Will. These people are considered your legal heirs. If you create a will and name specific people to receive property, these people are generally referred to as beneficiaries or, sometimes, legatees.
Intestate Succession. A person who does not create a Will dies intestate, while someone who does leave behind Will dies testate. When you don’t have a Will, specific state laws determine who receives your property. These laws are known as laws of intestate succession.