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Probate Terms to Know 

The Law Offices of Kenneth W. Drake, Inc. Oct. 24, 2022

Probate Wealth House EstateThere are common definitions for words, then there are legal definitions. That distinction is important when dealing with probate.  

If you are thinking about creating an estate plan or if someone has died and you are part of their probate estate, the language may be confusing. It is helpful to have knowledge of some of the basic terminology used in the probate process. I can help. I have the resources, knowledge, and comprehensive skills necessary to guide you through either process with your best interests in mind.  

At my firm, The Law Offices of Kenneth W. Drake, Inc., I serve clients in Woodland Hills, California, and throughout the San Fernando Valley, including Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties. I proudly work with those who need to understand probate to understand their estate plan and those involved in a probate court case.   

How Does Probate Work in California? 

In simple terms, probate is the legal process that validates or invalidates wills and oversees the administration of the estate of a deceased person. A formal and often lengthy probate process is required in California for estates with a value in excess of $166,250, for individuals who die with a will or without one. There is an expedited and less formal probate process for estates not meeting this threshold.   

During probate, estates are valued, debts are paid, and the residual is distributed according to the will or according to the law of intestate succession if there is no will.   

What Are Some Probate Terms I Should Know? 

There is a lengthy list of legal terminology relevant to estate planning. Following are some probate terms to know.   

Administrator: The administrator, sometimes referred to as the “personal representative,” is appointed by the court when someone dies without a will. The administrator is charged with overseeing the administration of the estate until it has been resolved and the probate case is closed.   

Beneficiary: A beneficiary is someone or something named in the will to benefit from the estate. Beneficiaries could be people, pets, or entities such as a charity. Beneficiaries are not necessarily the same as heirs. Heirs are those entitled to inherit from an estate without a will under the law of intestate succession.   

Creditor Claim: Creditors to whom the decedent owed money at the time of death are entitled to file a claim against the estate for the amount owed to them. Creditor claims are limited to a portion of the estate, so there can be a residual to distribute to beneficiaries or heirs. As such, creditors who file claims may need to settle for less than the amount owed.   

Executor: The executor is the personal representative named in a will to administer the decedent’s estate.   

Fiduciary Duty: Fiduciary duty is the duty one has to serve the best interests of someone else. In probate, the personal representative has a fiduciary duty to the estate they are administering rather than to their own interests or to the interests of certain individuals.   

Guardianship: A guardian is a person appointed by the court to manage the personal care and/or financial affairs of a minor child. Guardianship refers to the guardian’s authority and to the guardian’s legal relationship with the ward.   

Intestate Succession: Intestate succession is the order in which heirs benefit from an estate without a will. California’s intestate succession law determines who inherits from the estate when the decedent did not name beneficiaries in a valid will.   

Probate Account: A probate account is a bank account established to deposit payments made to the estate and to pay debts owed by the estate throughout the probate process. The account is closed upon the court’s closure of the probate case.   

Testate: Testate refers to the existence of a valid will. A testate estate has a valid will. An intestate estate does not.   

How Skilled Counsel Can Help 

An estate planning attorney like me isn’t just a translator for the probate process. I provide skilled and experienced legal counsel for all matters related to your estate planning or perhaps to help you navigate the probate process if you are named as a personal representative, heir, or beneficiary.   

Contact my firm, The Law Offices of Kenneth W. Drake, Inc., in Woodland Hills, California, today to schedule a consultation. Put my fluency with the language of probate to work for you.