Most people come to estate planning and probate attorneys with very little knowledge of what actually goes on during the probate process. These same people often come across probate and estate planning terms they may have never heard before and don’t really know what they mean. This is a very common situation, and one that should not cause you to feel uncomfortable. Your estate planning and probate attorney will always be able to help you through some of the more obscure language you may find, but let’s take a moment to review some of the more common terms that are often misunderstood by those new to probate language.
Executor, Personal Representative, Estate Administrator
The probate process exists to distribute the property a deceased person leaves behind. Though all states have a probate court that supervises this process, the day-to-day details and the actual transferring of the property falls to someone known as an executor. The executor is usually selected by the deceased person and named in that person’s last will and testament. Executors are also referred to as personal representatives or estate administrators.
Not all the property a deceased person leaves behind has to go through probate. In general, the property you leave behind after you die, including any debts or obligations you have, is known as your estate. Some of this property, such as life insurance benefits and property you own jointly with someone else, does not have to go through probate before a new owner takes possession. The rest of the property will have to go through probate, and is therefore known as your probate estate. Determining what property falls into the probate estate is part of the executor’s job.
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