Glossary of United States Probate Terms
Accounts - Accounts are the reports of administrators, executors, guardians, trustees, and conservators of transactions for the estate.
Administration - Administration is the authority given to the administrator to settle the estate. Also refers to the probate process for intestate estates.
Administrator (-trix) - When no will exists (intestate), the court appoints an administrator (male) or administratrix (female) to handle the estate proceedings.
Administrator cum testamento annexo (administrator c.t.a.) - The court appoints an administrator when no executor is named in the will or the executor is unable to serve.
Administrator de bonis non (administrator d.b.n.) - A successor administrator appointed by the court to handle the remainder of the affairs of the estate (such as upon the death of the administrator).
Affidavit - An affidavit is a legal written statement made under oath.
Affinity - Affinity is a relationship by marriage.
Agnate- Agnate is a relationship through the males of the family.
Appearance docket - The appearance docket is an index of all cases coming into a court.
Appraisal - The appraisal is an itemized valuation of real or personal property.
Attest - To attest is to witness, offer testimony, or to certify that a copy is genuine.
Beneficiary - A beneficiary is one who will receive benefit from the estate.
Bequeath - Bequeath is the act of assigning personal property in a will. (See testament.)
Bequest - A bequest is the personal property assigned in a will.
Bond - The bond is the legal instrument used to commit the bondsman to pay a certain fee if an agreement or act was not carried out.
Bondsman - A bondsman is a person who pledges a sum of money as bond in another's behalf.
Calendar - A calendar is list or schedule of cases to be presented before the court.
Case file - The case file is all of the various papers that have been created throughout the probate process. These are bound together and archived by case number. (See estate file or probate estate papers.)
Claims - Claims are the petitions, registers, accounts, or appeals files with the court.
Codicil - A codicil is an addendum to a will.
Committee - A committee is a group of people charged with specific duties for a limited time.
Common law - Common law refers to the body of unwritten law developed in England based on custom and precedent, rather than by statute.
Community propertyBased on Spanish custom, all real and personal property acquired by a couple after marriage, belongs to both husband and wife and is called community property. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington are community property states.
Consanguinity - Consanguinity is a close relation.
Conservator - A conservator is a person appointed to manage the affairs of one considered incompetent; protector.
Contest - To contest a will means to dispute the will.
Coverture -Coverture refers to the status of married women under English common law.
Curtesy - Based on English common law, curtesy is a husband's right, upon the death of his wife, to a life estate in land that the wife owned while living, and only applicable if a child had been born to the couple.
Decedent - The decedent is the person who is deceased.
Degree of relationship - This is a legal term referring to the degree (generations) of two persons who descend from a common ancestor but not one from the other.
Devise - Devise is to transfer real property through a will.
Devisee - A devisee is a person receiving real property through a will.
Devisor - The devisor is the person transferring real property through a will; testator.
Distributions - Distributions refer to the manner in which the deceased's possessions are allocated.
Divisions -Divisions are records in the probate process. These might include commission reports, settlements, decrees of distribution, dower rights, courtesy rights, awards, private disbursement, ledgers, guardians' final report, probate decrees, certificates of devise, assignments of real estate, orders of distribution, or decrees of heirship.
Docket - A docket is a list or schedule of cases to be presented before the court.
Dower rights - The dower rights are the rights that a non-owner spouse has in the real property.
Entail - To entail is to limit the inheritance of real property to only those in a specified line of descent, such as to the oldest male in each generation.
Escheat - In cases where no one is entitled to inherit, property reverts to the state, or escheats.
Estate - The estate is the real and personal property left by the deceased.
Estate file - The estate file contains information about the property left by the deceased to be dispersed between the surviving heirs. (See case file or probate estate papers.)
Executor (-trix) - The person (executor = male; executrix = female) who has been named by the testator of the will to manage the estate.
Feme sole - Feme sole refers to a single woman.
Fiduciary - The fiduciary is a person who is holding assets for another. In probate, this might be the executor, administrator, guardian, or a trustee.
Final account - Thefinal account is the final accounting of the estate and how it was distributed; settlement.
Guardian - A guardian is the person appointed by the court to manage the affairs of a minor or someone incapable of handling his or her own affairs.
Guardianship - Guardianship is the court appointment of an adult to take care of the child or the child's property.
Heir - An heir is a person who inherits property upon the death of the owner.
Holographic will - A holographic will is hand written by the testator.
Imprimis - Imprimis is Latin, meaning "in the first place."
Infant - Infant minor not yet of legal age, not necessarily a young child.
Intestate - Intestate is when an individual dies without leaving a will.
Inventory - An inventory is an itemized list of real or personal property and an appraisal of its value.
Issue - Issue refers to offspring, biological children, or legitimate descendants.
Legacy - A legacy is a gift (bequest) of real or personal property by way of a will.
Legatee - A legatee is a person receiving real or personal property by way of a will.
Legator - The legator is the person giving personal property by way of a will. (See devisor or testator.)
Letters of Administration - Letters of Administration refers to the formal document from the court granting authority to handle the affairs of the estate.
Lineal - Linealmeans being in a direct line from a male or female ancestor.
Locus sigilli (L.S.) - Locus sigilli is Latin, meaning "in place of the seal."
Loose papers - Loose papers are a collection of various papers, separate from book records.
Majority - When a person reaches majority, he or she is of full legal age.
Minor - A person who has not yet reached full legal age.
Next friend - A person acting in behalf of a minor or one unable to represent himself.
Notices - Notices are published so that creditors, and others with an interest in the estate, have an opportunity to collect debts or contact the legal representatives.
Nuncupative will - An oral will.
Parcener - A joint heir.
Partition - To divide into parts or shares.
Per capita - The method of distributing an estate in which each person receives an equal share.
Per stirpes - The method of distributing an estate in which a group of people (such as the grandchildren whose parent is deceased) receive a share as if they were one person.
Petition - A formal, written request made to a court.
Primogeniture - The first-born son inheriting the intestate estate.This practice was based on English common law.
Probate - All matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, whether there is a will (testate) or not (intestate).
Probate case file - These are all of the various papers that have been created throughout the probate process. These are bound together and archived by case number; they are also called case files, estate files, or probate estate papers.
Probate fees - Compensation paid to the attorney
Probate packet - Probate case files placed together in an envelope or tied together with a string.
Prove - The evidentiary process validating a will.
Publication - Notices are published so that creditors, and others with an interest in the estate, have an opportunity to collect debts or contact the legal representatives.
Receipt - A written statement that funds, property, or legal documents have been received.
Register of wills - The name of the office with probate jurisdiction in some localitities.
Register - A bound book in which official matters are recorded by the court clerk.
Relict - A widow or widower.
Relinquishment - To waive one's rights; surrender.
Settlements - The final accounting of the estate and how it was distributed; final account.
Sine prole (s.p.) - Without offspring.
Succession - The process of settling an estate based on Spanish community property law, followed especially in Louisiana.
Successor administrator (-trix) - Administrator appointed by the court to handle the remainder of the affairs of the estate (such as upon the death of the administrator); administrator de bonis non (administrator d.b.n.).
Surety - A person who agrees to be liable for another's debts and obligations in case of default.
Surrogate - The court officer with jurisdiction over probate and guardianship matters in New Jersy and New York.
Testament - Technically, the document in which the testator distributes (bequeaths) personal property. This term is often dropped from "last will and testament."
Testamentary - Pertaining to a will.
Testate - When an individual dies having left a will.
Testator (-trix) - The person making the will or testament.
Trustee - A person who holds legal title to property for the benefit of someone else.
Videlicet (viz.) - Latin, meaning "namely."
Widow's allowance - State statute governs the share of real or personal property which a widow can claim from her husband's estate. Often this supercedes other claims and debts to the estate.
Widow's election - A widow's right to either accept what was granted to her by her husband's will or to accept the share granted to her by state statute.
Will - Technically, the document in which the testator distributes (devises) real property. This term is often used in place of "last will and testament."
Witness - A person who attests to actions or events personally seen.
- Black, Henry Campbell. Black's Law Dictionary: Definitions of Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern. 6th edition. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing, 1990.
- Evans, Barbara Jean. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists & Historians. 3rd edition. Alexandria, Virginia: Hearthside Press, 1995.
- Greenwood, Val D. 3rd edition. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing C., Inc. 2000. Of particular interest is the chapter, "Understanding Probate Records and Basic Legal Terminology."
- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 11th edition. Springfield, Massachusetts: 2003.
- Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2004. Of particular interest are the chapter, "Estates Galore," plus the "Glossary" at the end of the book.