Next Steps for Families, LLC - Licensed Fiduciary

Next Steps for Families, LLC - Licensed Fiduciary

Resources & Terminology

Community resources, services and knowledge to help you make informed decisions.



Commonly Used Probate Terminology

Accounting – A document prepared by a conservator or personal representative that documents all financial transactions involving estate assets.

Affidavit – A document in which the signor makes a statement under oath. Affidavits are generally notarized.

Appraisal - A good-faith estimate of the market value of real estate or personal property.

Beneficiary Deed – A document which transfers title to real property to a specified individual after the death of the property’s owner.

Beneficiary Designation – A method of transferring title to a decedent’s assets after his death without the need to open probate.  Property is often titled as POD.

Bequest – An interest or gift made in a decedent’s last will and testament.

Bond – A financial arrangement in which a third party guarantees the assets against a fiduciary’s possible bad acts.  The judge will set the bond amount to be obtained.

Certified Copy – An official copy of a court document, guaranteed to be an exact copy of the original.

Community Property – Property acquired during marriage.  Both spouses have rights in all real and personal property acquired during the marriage.

Conservator - A person appointed by the court to manage the assets of someone who is determined by the court to be unable to manage his or her own finances and property.

Creditor – An individual or entity owed money.

Codicil- A document that supplements or amends an existing will.  A codicil may change or revoke provisions of a will.  A codicil must be signed in front of witnesses.

Decedent – A deceased individual.

Deed of Distribution – A document that transfers title to real property.

Demand for Notice – A document filed by an interested party requesting copies of all documents filed in court with respect to the administration of a proceeding.

Descendant – An individual who can trace his familial history to a decedent or other specified individual.

Devise – A gift under a decedent’s last will and testament.

Devisee – A person entitled to a gift under a decedent’s last will and testament.

Escheat – The passing of a decedent’s estate to the state when no other beneficiaries are qualified to receive the estate’s assets.

Estate – The composition of assets and liabilities.  This is used to describe assets in conservatorship and decedent estates.

Executor - The person named in the will to act on behalf of and in the interest of the estate.  Many states now use the term 'personal representative' rather than executor.

Family Allowance – One of three statutory allowances provided to certain beneficiaries that allows $12,000.00 to be provided to qualified family members who were dependent on the decedent for support.

Fiduciary - Someone who accepts the responsibility of taking care of the needs or property of another person, for the benefit of that person.  Fiduciaries serve by court appointment as guardians, conservators, trustees or personal representatives of estates.  

Fiduciary Duties – The obligation of a the fiduciary to act fairly and impartially in the administration of an estate.

Gift – Property acquired without the receiving party exchanging similarly valued property.

Guardian- A guardian is appointed by the probate court to ensure that the personal and medical needs of an incapacitated person are met.  Decisions made on behalf of the Ward are made with the wards preferences and history when possible.  The guardian has the responsibility to ensure that the Ward resides in the least restrictive environment possible.  In Arizona, professional guardians must be licensed by the Licensing and Certification Division of the Supreme Court.

Heir – An individual entitled to a portion of a decedent’s intestate estate.

Holographic Will – A document signed by the decedent and in her handwriting that disposes of her property at death.

In-kind Distribution – A distribution of an estate asset where a physical asset is given to the beneficiary rather than liquidating the asset and distributing cash.

Instrument of Distribution – A document signed by a personal representative showing that title to an asset of personal property pass from the estate to the beneficiary.

Intestacy – The status of dying without a valid last will and testament.

Intestate Heir – An individual who is entitled to a portion of an intestate estate.

Interested Party – An individual with a desire to receive information regarding the administration of a decedent’s estate. Exactly who might be an interested person can vary on a case-by-case basis.

Inventory- A detailed list of real and personal property compiled by the conservator or personal representative to identify estate assets. 

Known Creditor – A known creditor is a creditor of a decedent which the personal representative has knowledge of, such as a mortgage company or credit card company.

Letters / Letters of Administration - The court order appointing a guardian, conservator or personal representative is effective once the Letters have issued.  This document is filed with and obtained from the court.

Marshal – The act of gathering a decedent’s property by a personal representative after appointment.

Notice to Creditors – A document which is published in a newspaper for unknown creditors and mailed to known creditors that announces the appointment of a personal representative and requires that creditor claims be presented to the estate within four months.

Notary Public - A person authorized by the state to officially recognize that documents have been signed by the identified signor.

Personal Property – A description of personal possessions other than real property.

Personal Representative – An individual appointed by a court to administer a decedent’s estate.

POD - Refers to payable on death.  Certain kinds of property will name a payable on death beneficiary.

Probate – Literally means, "to prove the will."   The term is generally used to describe court supervised processes following a persons death that includes proving the authenticity of the will, appointing a personal representative, identifying and inventorying the property, determining claims, debts, filing taxes, identifying heirs, distributing property and closing the estate.  Probate court generally refers to proceedings associated with guardianship, conservatorship and decedent estates.

Real Property – Real estate property.

Restricted Asset – An asset that cannot be distributed, disbursed, encumbered, sold or otherwise used without prior court authorization.

Separate Property  – Property acquired before marriage or acquired by gift, bequest, or devise. All property held by an individual who is not married is separate property.

Small Estate Affidavit – A document signed under oath by a personal representative that allows small estates to be distributed to beneficiaries without the need for probate.

Sound Mind – A requirement to execute a last will and testament that requires a decedent to understand the general nature of her property, recognize who would traditionally inherit such property, and understand the nature of making a will.  A decedent’s soundness of mind is judged at the time a will is executed.

Status Conference – A hearing with the court where any matter concerning the case may be reviewed.

Testator – A person who made a last will and testament.

Trust – A non-judicial method to settle a decedent’s affairs, pay a decedent’s creditors, and transfer property to a decedent’s beneficiaries.  The Trust is the instrument to instruct the trustee as to how the property is to be managed.

Undue Influence – A claim in a will contest that a decedent’s last will and testament was the produce of improper influences resulting in a document that does not reflect the decedent’s true intentions with respect to the disposition of property at the time of death.

Vulnerable Adult – An adult that is unable to protect hisself from exploitation due to physical, medical, or mental impairments.

Will - A legal document in which a person can specify who inherits from the estate.  The will typically names another person to act as the executor or personal representative.

Will Contest – Judicial proceedings to determine whether a decedent left a valid last will and testament. Possible basis of a will contest may be undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, and failure to properly execute a will.