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Frequently Used Terms

Administration of an Estate: the management and distribution of a decedent's property, which includes the collection of assets, payment of expenses, debts and taxes, and distribution to the heirs or legatees.

Child (or children): a child who is a legitimate child, an adopted child, or an illegitimate child. (Child does not include a stepchild, a foster child, or a grandchild or any other more distant descendant.)

Claimant: a person (or entity) who files a claim against a decedent's estate.

Collateral Heir or Legatee: one who is not of the direct line of the decedent, but is related through a collateral line. For example, collaterals include siblings, nieces, nephews, etc.

Decedent: a deceased person; a person who has passed away.

Descendant: one who is in the bloodline of an ancestor. (Descendants include children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc.)

Direct Heir or Legatee: one who is of the direct line of the decedent. This includes children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents.

Domicile: the place where a person has physically been present with the intention to make the place a permanent home. (In other words, domicile is the place one would return to or intend to return to when away.)

Election against the Will: the right provided by statute to a spouse that allows him/her to receive a statutory share, even if it is more than the will provided.

Encumbrance: a lien or claim attached to property, such as a mortgage on real property.

Estate: the property of a decedent.

Family Allowance: an allowance in addition to property passing under the will or by the laws of intestacy. The surviving spouse and each unmarried child of the decedent, who was not eighteen years at the time of the death of the decedent are entitled to receive a family allowance.

Fiduciary: a person or institution that manages and administers money and other assets of another. A fiduciary includes trustee, receiver, custodian, guardian, executor, administrator, or personal representative.

Interested Person: the person(s) named to receive through a will, heirs at law, the person(s)serving as personal representative(s), trustee(s) of a trust, and court appointed guardian(s) for minors.

Inheritance Tax: a tax imposed on certain persons for the privilege of receiving probate or non-probate property from a decedent's estate. The rate of tax is determined by the date of death and the relationship to the decedent.

Intestate: decedent dying without a will.

Issue: lineal descendants of the decedent (children, grandchildren, etc).

Joint Tenancy: a type of ownership where personal or real property is held jointly by two or more persons in undivided (equal) shares with the right of survivorship. When a joint tenant dies, his/her share passes automatically by operation of law to the survivor(s).

Legatee: a person named in a will to inherit.

Letter of Administration: a document issued by the Register of Wills that authorizes a personal representative to administer an estate.

Limited Order: an order allowing for the search of assets in the decedent's name alone located in a banking institution or if a will might be in a safe deposit box in the name of the decedent alone.

Lineal Heir or Legatee: see Direct Heir or Legatee

Modified Administration: a streamlined version of administrative probate available to the personal representative (in estates where the decedent died on or after 1/1/98) when the residuary legatees/heirs consist of no one other than the personal representative, spouse and children and other inheritance tax-exempt heirs. In lieu of an inventory and an account, the personal representative is required to file a final report within 10 months from the date of appointment.

Net Estate: property remaining after the deduction of liens, debts, expenses and taxes.

Non-probate Estate: property that passes outside the probate estate, including:jointly held assets, life estate or remainder interests in a trust or deed, trusts in which the decedent had an interest, payable on death (P.O.D.) assets, and pension and benefit plans, including IRAs with named beneficiaries .

Personal Representative (also referred to as executor or administrator): the person appointed to administer the estate per the terms of the decedent's will or the laws of the intestacy either administratively or judicially.

Petition for Probate: the document required to initiate a probate proceeding.


Probate estate: property owned solely by the decedent or as a tenant in common.

Administrative Probate: a proceeding that is initiated by an interested person with the Register of Wills for the appointment of a personal representative and for the probate of a will, or the determination of intestacy of the decedent.

Ancillary Probate (also referred to as a foreign personal representative): a probate proceeding in another state, other than the place of decedent's domicile. (Usually when real estate is owned in another jurisdiction.)

Judicial probate: a probate proceeding conducted by the Orphans' Court (as opposed to the Register of Wills) when the situation prohibits administrative probate (validity of the will is questioned, will is damaged, more than one qualified person applies for personal representative, etc.)

Regular Estate: the estate procedure for a decedent who owned probate assets with a gross value in excess of $50,000 (or $100,000 if the sole heir or legatee is the surviving spouse) in his/her name alone. For persons dying prior to October 1, 2012, a Regular Estate consists of assets with a gross value in excess of $30,000 (or $50,000 if the sole heir or legatee is the surviving spouse)

Residence: living in a specific area with the intent to indefinitely stay there. See Domicile for difference.

Siblings: sister(s) or brother(s) of the decedent.

Small Estate: the estate procedure for a decedent who owned probate assets with a gross value of $50,000 or less (or $100,000 or less if the sole heir or legatee is the surviving spouse) in his/her name alone. For persons dying prior to October 1, 2012, the Small Estate limit is $30,000 or less (or $50,000 or less if the sole heir or legatee is the surviving spouse)

Special Administrator: an administrator of an estate appointed by the court when it is necessary to protect and manage property prior to the appointment of a personal representative. (A special administrator has limited powers.)

Tenants by the Entirety: a type of ownership that is created only between husband and wife where they hold title to the whole property together, with the right of survivorship upon the death of the first to die.

Tenants in Common: a type of ownership where two or more persons each hold an undivided interest in a piece of property with no right of survivorship. Upon the death of an owner, his/her interest passes to the heirs under the laws of intestacy, or in accordance with the terms of the will.

Testate: decedent dying with a will.

Testator/Testatrix: male/female who makes a will.

Trust: property interest held by one party (trustee) for the benefit of another (beneficiary). Trust assets are non-probate assets.

Will of No Estate: Decedent had a will with no assets in his/her name alone.