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Probate / Trusts / Conservatorships Defined
Terms. Definitions. Transparency.

Probate Terms

Overview

When dealing with real property in Probates, Trusts & Conservatorships, The CREM Group can provide Executors, Administrators, Beneficiaries and Conservators the requisite clarity to realize the best possible disposition of the real property assets involved.

Trusts

A trust is a written legal instrument created by a grantor during his or her lifetime or at death for the benefit of another. Property is given to a trustee to manage for the benefit of a third person. Generally, the beneficiary gets interest and dividends on the trust assets for a set number of years. The property itself is sometimes termed the “corpus” of trust.

Probate

Probate in general is the judicial process in which an instrument purporting to be the will of a deceased person is proven to be genuine or not; lawful distribution of the decedent’s estate. In essence, it’s the legal process of administering a will. Also, the judicially supervised process for marshaling a decedent’s assets, paying proper debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the persons or entities entitled to them. An estate may be probated even if there is no will.

Conservatorships

A conservatorship involves a court proceeding to appoint a manager for the financial affairs or the personal care of one who is either physically or mentally unable to handle either or both.

Probate Terms Defined

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
A

ABATE

To put an end to; nullify.

ABATEMENT

Cutting back certain gifts under a will when necessary to create a fund to meet expenses, pay taxes, satisfy debts, or to have enough to take care of other bequests that are given priority under law or under the will.

ABSTRACT OF JUDGMENT

A written summary of a judgment which states how much money the losing party (judgment debtor) owes to the person who won a monetary award (judgment creditor).

ACCOUNTING

An act or system of making up or settling accounts; a statement of account, or a debit and credit in financial Transactions.

ADEMPTION

The failure of a specific bequest of property because the property is no longer owned by the testator at the time of his death.

ADMINISTRATOR

A person (sometimes a family member) appointed by the court to administer the estate of a person who died without a will (i.e., a Personal Representative).

ADMINISTRATOR WITH WILL ANNEXED

A person appointed by the court to administer the estate of a person who died with a will, but the will either fails to nominate an executor or the named executor is unable to Serve.

ADVERSE POSSESSION

The actual, open, and notorious possession of real property, for a continued period of time, held adversely and in denial and in opposition to the title of any other claimant.

AGE OF MAJORITY

The age when a person acquires all the rights and responsibilities of being an adult. In California, as in most states, the age is 18.

AMENDED

To add to or change a document that has been filed in court by replacing it in its entirety with a new version. In Probate, an Amended Petition will be given a new hearing date.

AMENDMENT

To add to or change a portion of a document that has been filed in court. In Probate, an Amendment to a Petition will not be given a new hearing date.

ANCILLARY ADMINISTRATION

Administration in a state other than the decedent’s domicile, when there is also a known administration at the place of domicile.

ANNUITANT

Beneficiary of annuity.

ASSETS

All property other than income that is part of an estate.

ATTESTATION

The act of witnessing the signing of a document by another, and the signing of the document as a witness. Thus, a will requires both the signature by the person making the will and attestation by at least two witnesses.

ATTESTATION CLAUSE

The clause generally at the end of an instrument wherein the witnesses certify that the instrument has been executed before them, and the manner of the execution of same.

ATTORNEY-IN-FACT

The individual who is designated in the power of attorney document to act on behalf of another.

BENEFICIARY

An individual or organization to which a gift of property is made. Person (or organization) receiving benefits under a legal instrument such as a will, trust, or life insurance policy. Except when very small estates are involved, beneficiaries of wills only receive their benefits after the will is examined and approved by the probate court. Beneficiaries of trusts receive their benefits directly as provided in the trust Instrument.

BEQUEATH

The first-person legal term used to leave someone personal property in the will, e.g., “I bequeath my antique car to my brother Jody.”

BEQUEST

The legal term used to describe personal property left in a Will.

BLOCKED ACCOUNTS

Cash or securities that are placed in a bank, trust company, insured savings and loan or insured brokerage account, subject to withdrawal only upon court order or statute.

BOND

A document guaranteeing that a certain amount of money will be paid to the victim if a person occupying a position of trust does not carry out his legal and ethical responsibilities. If an executor, trustee or guardian who is bonded wrongfully deprives a beneficiary of his/her property, the bonding company will replace it, up the limits of the bond.

BYPASS TRUST

A trust into which just enough of a decedent’s estate passes, so that the estate can take advantage of the unified credit against federal estate taxes. Also known as credit-shelter trust, A-B trust, or marital life estate trust.

CAPACITY

Mental ability to make a rational decision, which includes the ability to perceive and appreciate all relevant facts. Capacity is not necessarily synonymous with sanity. Legal capacity is the attribute of a person who can acquire new rights, or transfer rights, or assume duties according to the mere dictates of his/her own will, as manifested in acts, without any restraint or hindrance arising from his/her status or legal condition.

CHATTEL

Any tangible, moveable thing, personal as opposed to real property.

CODICIL

An amendment or supplement to an existing will. When admitted to probate, it forms a part of the will.

COMMISSIONER

A person appointed by the court who is given the power to hear and make decisions concerning certain limited legal matters; e.g., traffic commissioner, small claims Commissioner.

COMMUNITY PROPERTY

Property acquired by a couple during their marriage except by gift or inheritance.

CONSENT FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT

Power held by conservator of the person only if expressly granted by the court, after noticed motion and consideration of physician's declaration.

CONSERVATEE

A person determined by the court to be unable to protect and manage their own personal care or financial affairs, or both. And, for whom the court has appointed a conservator.

CONSERVATOR

A person or organization appointed by the court to protect and manage the personal care or financial affairs, or both, of a Conservatee. (See LPS conservatorship.)

CONSERVATORSHIP

A court proceeding to appoint a manager for the financial affairs or the personal care of one who is either physically or mentally unable to handle either or both.

CONSERVATORSHIP ESTATE

The conservatee’s income and assets.

CONTESTANT

A person who contests the eligibility of a will to be admitted to probate.

CONTESTED

To defend against an adverse claim made in a court by a plaintiff, petitioner or a prosecutor; to challenge a position asserted in a judicial proceeding, as to contest the probate of a will.

CONTINGENT BENEFICIARY

Any person entitled to property under a will in the event one or more prior conditions are satisfied.

COURT INVESTIGATOR

Conducts field investigations and assessments with individuals applying for a guardianship of the estate or conservatorship of the person and/or estate. The investigator interviews involved parties, relatives, attorneys, medical and psychiatric staff, various government agencies, and other concerned parties.

CREDITOR

A person (or institution) to whom money is owed.

CREDITOR’S CLAIM

A document wherein a creditor demands payment for debt owed by the decedent.

DECEDENT

A person who has died.

DEED

A written legal document that describes a piece of property and outlines its boundaries. The seller of a property transfers ownership by delivering the deed to the buyer in exchange for an agreed upon sum of money.

DEPENDENT

In family law, refers to a person who is financially supported by another person, usually the parent. In juvenile law, refers to a minor who is in the custody of the court because he or she has been abused, neglected, or molested.

DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITY

Developmental disability is a mental disability that begins before an individual attains age 18, that continues indefinitely, and that is substantially handicapping.

DEVISE

A legal term that now means any real or personal property that is transferred under the terms of a will. Previously, the term only referred to real property.

DEVISEE

A person or entity who receives real or personal property under the terms of a will.

DISBURSEMENTS

The act of paying out money, commonly from a fund or in settlement of a debt or account payable.

DISCHARGE

The term used to describe the court order releasing the administrator or executor from any further duties regarding the estate being subjected to probate proceedings. This typically occurs when the duties have been completed but can also happen in the middle of the probate proceeding when the executor or administrator wishes to withdraw or is removed.

DISTRIBUTEE

Someone who receives property from an estate.

DONEE

One who receives a gift. Thus, the beneficiary of a trust is generally referred to as the “donee.”

DONOR

One who, while alive, gives property to another, in the form of a trust.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY

A written legal document that lets an individual designate another person to act on his or her behalf, even in the event the individual becomes disabled or incapacitated.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR HEALTHCARE

A written legal document that allows an individual to designate another person to act on his or her behalf with regard to their healthcare decisions.

ELECTIVE SHARE

Refers to probate laws that allow a spouse to take a certain portion of an estate when the other spouse dies, regardless of what was written in the spouse’s will.

ENCUMBRANCE

Any claim or restriction on a property’s title, a debt.

EQUITY

The difference between the fair market value of your real and personal property and the amount you still owe on it, if any.

ESCHEAT

A legal doctrine under which property belonging to a deceased person with no heirs passes to the state.

ESCROW

Money or documents, such as a deed or title, held by a third party until the conditions of an agreement are met. For instance, pending the completion of a real estate transaction, the deed to the property will be held “in escrow.”

ESTATE

A person’s total possessions (assets), including money, jewelry, securities, land, etc. These assets are managed by a fiduciary subject to a court order (e.g., guardianship estate, conservatorship estate, or decedent’s estate).

EXECUTOR

The person named in a will to carry out the directions as set forth in the will. This person is the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.

EXPENSES OF ADMINISTRATION

The expenses incurred by an executor or administrator in carrying out the terms of a will or in administering an estate. These include probate court fees, fees charged by an executor or administrator, attorney’s fees, accountant fees, and appraiser’s fees.

FAIR MARKET VALUE

That price for which an item of property would be purchased by a willing buyer, and sold by a willing seller, both knowing all the facts and neither being under any compulsion to buy or sell.

FIDUCIARY

A person or organization that manages property for a person, with a legal responsibility involving a high standard of care (e.g., conservators, guardians, personal representatives, agents, or trustees).

FIDUCIARY DUTY

An obligation to act in the best interest of another party. For instance, a corporation’s board member has a fiduciary duty to the shareholders, a trustee has a fiduciary duty to the trust’s beneficiaries, and an attorney has a fiduciary duty to a client.

GENERAL ADMINISTRATOR

One who is appointed to generally administer the entire Estate.

GRANTOR

The person who transfers assets into a trust for the benefit of another. (Also known as a trustor.)

GUARDIAN

A person appointed by the court to protect and manage the personal care or financial affairs, or both, of a minor (ward).

GUARDIAN AD LITEM

Latin for “guardian at law.” A person appointed by a court to represent the interests of an incapacitated, mentally handicapped, or minor person in a court case.

GUARDIANSHIP

The office, duty, or authority of a guardian. Also, the relation subsisting between guardian and ward.

HEIR

A person who would naturally inherit property through a will, or from another who died without leaving a will.

HOLOGRAPHIC WILL

Generally, a will that is completely handwritten, dated and signed by the person making the will.

INCAPACITY

The lack of ability to act on one’s own behalf.

INHERITANCE TAX

California law no longer has a state inheritance tax as such. But if federal estate tax is owed, some of the amount is paid to the state and allowed as a credit on the amount of federal tax owed.

INTERLINEATION

The act of writing between the lines of an instrument.

INTER VIVOS TRUST

A trust set up during the lifetime of a person to distribute money or property to another person or organization (as distinguished from a person who transfers money or property after death).

INTESTATE

Without a will. Opposite of testate.

INVENTORY AND APPRAISAL

A list of all assets in the estate at the beginning of the guardianship, conservatorship, or at the decedent's death. Cash items are valued by the fiduciary; the probate referee values all other items at their fair market value.

IRREVOCABLE LIVING TRUST

A trust created during the maker’s lifetime that does not allow the maker or anyone else to change it.

ISSUE

A term generally meaning all natural children and their children down through the generations. Adopted children are considered the issue of their adoptive parents and the children of the adopted children (and so on) are also considered issue.

JOINT TENANCY WITH RIGHT OF SURVIVORSHIP

Property that names a co-owner on its deed or title. At the death of one of the co-owners, the other will become the sole owner of the property, regardless of what may be conveyed in the will.

JUDGMENT

A court’s official decision on the matters before it.

JUDICIAL OFFICER

An official of the judicial branch of government with authority to decide matters brought before the court. The term "judge" may also refer to all judicial officers, including Supreme Court justices.

JURISDICTION

A court’s authority to rule on the questions of law at issue in a dispute, typically determined by geographic location and type of case.

KINDRED

All persons described as relatives of the decedent under the California Probate Code.

LAPSE

The failure of a gift of property left in a will because when the testator dies the beneficiary is deceased and no alternate has been named. California has a statute (termed an “anti-lapse” statute), which prevents gifts to relatives from lapsing unless the relative has no heirs of his or her own.

LEGACY

An old legal word meaning a transfer of personal property by will. The more common term for this type of transfer is bequest or devise.

LEGATEE

Also known as beneficiary. Person named in a will to receive property.

LETTERS

The court document that establishes the authority to act as a guardian, conservator, or personal representative (executor or administrator). In decedent’s estates, an executor’s letters are designated “letters testamentary,” and an administrator’s letters are “letters of administration.”

LIFE ESTATE

The type of ownership a person possesses in real estate when he/she has only the right of possession for his/her life, and the ownership passes to someone else after his/her death.

LIMITED CONSERVATORSHIP

A type of conservatorship for developmentally-disabled adults.

LIVING TRUST

A trust set up while a person is alive and which remains under the control of that person during the remainder of her life. Also referred to as “inter vivos trusts.”

LIVING WILL

Also known as a medical directive or advance directive. A written document that states a person’s wishes regarding life-support or other medical treatment in certain circumstances, usually when death is imminent.

LPS CONSERVATORSHIP

A specific type of conservatorship, under the Lanternman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act, which allows for involuntary detention and treatment of a person (the conservatee). This conservatorship is a result of mental disorder and the conservatee appears to be a danger to himself/herself or others, or is gravely disabled.

MARITAL DEDUCTION

A deduction allowing for the unlimited transfer of any or all property from one spouse to the other generally free of estate and gift tax.

MINOR

A person under the age of 18. A minor is usually defined as someone who has not yet reached the age of majority. The term does not apply to an emancipated youth. As used in the context of a guardianship, a person under the age of 18 years of age who is placed in the care of a court-appointed guardian.

NET ESTATE

The value of all property owned at death less liabilities.

NEXT OF KIN

The closest living relatives of a decedent, under the California law governing intestate succession.

NUNCUPATIVE

Oral, not written, form of will – not valid in California.

No Probate Terms Defined

PECUNIARY

Monetary; relating to money; financial; consisting of money or that which can be valued as money.

PER STIRPES

By right of representation; made of distribution in which the issue of a deceased devisee collectively take only the share which their parent would have taken if living.

PERSONAL EFFECTS

Belongings of a personal nature, such as clothes and jewelry.

PERSONAL PROPERTY

All items, both tangible and intangible, that are not real property. Anything owned by a person that can be moved such as money, securities, jewelry, etc.

PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE

The generic title applied to the person who is authorized to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate. Almost always, this person is either an administrator or executor appointed by the court to administer a decedent’s estate.

PETITION

A written, formal request, properly filed with the court, for a specific action or order. The petition is a pre-printed court form in some cases, or written in proper format on pleading paper in others (e.g., petition for probate, petition for conservatorship, etc).

PETITIONER

One who presents a petition to a court. The person who opposes the prayer of the petition is called the “respondent.”

PLEADINGS

In a civil case, the allegations by each party of their claims and defenses.

POWER OF ATTORNEY

A written legal document that gives an individual the authority to act for another.

PREDECEASED SPOUSE

The term applied to a spouse who has died before the decedent while married to him or her.

PRETERMITTED HEIR

A child or spouse who, under certain circumstances, is not mentioned in the will and who the court believes was accidentally overlooked by the testator when making his/her will.

PROBATE

The judicial process in which an instrument purporting to be the will of a deceased person is proven to be genuine or not; lawful distribution of the decedent’s estate. The legal process of administering a will. Also, the judicially supervised process for marshaling a decedent’s assets, paying proper debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the persons or entities entitled to them. An estate may be probated even if there is no will.

PROBATE ESTATE

All the assets owned at death that require some form of legal proceeding before title may be transferred to the proper heirs. Property that passes automatically at death (property in trust, life insurance proceeds, property in a “pay-on-death” account or property held in joint tenancy) is not in the probate estate.

PROBATE EXAMINER

The Probate Examiner examines files and documents in pending probate matters set for hearing, providing technical, procedural and legal review to ensure that matters before the court have proper notice and complete documents for a court ruling. The Examiner’s work-product is then posted prior to the hearing date for the parties to review and correct deficiencies (or defects) prior to the hearing.

PROBATE REFEREE

An official appointed by the California State Controller to value all property (except for cash type items) in probate, small estate petitions, conservatorship, and guardianship matters filed with the court. Probate Referees also assist trustees in valuing assets in non-probate matters.

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATOR

A publicly appointed person who handles the administration of an estate when no other person has been appointed as executor or administrator.

PUBLIC GUARDIAN (PUBLIC CONSERVATOR)

An appointed or elected county officer (and staff) authorized by law to serve as guardian or conservator.

No Probate Terms Defined

REAL PROPERTY

Land and all the things that are attached to it. Anything that is not real property is personal property and personal property is anything that isn’t nailed down, dug into or built onto the land. A house is real property, but a dining room set is not.RECEIPTS

RECEIPTS

All cash or other assets of the estate received by the fiduciary, other than those listed on the inventory and appraisement. Receipts must be reported to the court on a schedule in the periodic accounting.

RESIDUARY ESTATE

Also known as residue of the estate. Portion of the estate left after bequests of specific items of property are made. Often the largest portion.

RESIDUARY LEGATEE

The person or persons named in a will to receive any residue left in an estate after the bequests of specific items are made.

REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST

A trust created during the maker’s lifetime that can be changed. Allows the creator to pass assets on to choose beneficiaries without going through probate.

RIGHT OF SURVIVORSHIP

In a “joint-tenancy” or “community property with right of survivorship,” the property automatically goes to the co-owner if the other co-owners dies.

SELF-PROVING WILL

A will accompanied by a sworn statement signed by the witnesses under penalty of perjury. Many states accept such wills in order to avoid the cumbersome process of requiring an executor to track down the witnesses.

SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR

A person appointed to be responsible for a deceased person's property for a limited time or during an emergency, such as a challenge to the will or to the qualifications of the named executor.

SPECIAL NEEDS TRUST

A Special Needs Trust enables a person under a physical or mental disability, or an individual with a chronic or acquired illness, to have, held in Trust for his or her benefit, an unlimited amount of assets.

SPECIFIC BEQUEST

A specific item, distinguished from all others of the same kind belonging to the testator that is designated in the will as going to a specific beneficiary. If the specific item is no longer in the estate when the decedent dies, the bequest fails and resort cannot be made to other property of the decedent.

SPENDTHRIFT TRUST

A trust designed to keep money out of the hands of creditors. Often established to protect someone who is incapable of managing his or her financial affairs.

STATUTE

Any written law passed by a state or federal legislative body.

STATUTORY WILL

California form will.

STIPULATION

An agreement between parties or their attorneys.

SUBSTITUTED JUDGMENT

A legal doctrine by which the court may authorize or direct the conservator to take certain actions relating to the conservatee's estate. This may include making gifts or transferring assets to trusts.

SUCCESSOR FIDUCIARY

The next person, or organization, appointed as when a vacancy arises in a conservatorship, guardianship, or decedent's estate because of the fiduciary's death, removal, or resignation.

SURETY

One who undertakes to pay money or do any other act in the event that his principal fails therein. One bound with his/her performance of some duty or promise and who is entitled to be indemnified by someone who ought to have paid or performed if payment or performance be enforced against him/her.

SURETY BOND

See bond.

SURETY BOND RIDER

A surety bond rider, also called a superseded suretyship rider, is an addendum which the surety attaches to a surety bond in order to lengthen the discovery period beyond the span of time originally indicated in the bond's terms.

TANGIBLE PERSONAL PROPERTY

Personal property that takes a tangible form, such as automobiles, furniture and heirlooms.

TAXABLE ESTATE

The fair market value of all assets owned by a decedent at date of death (gross estate) less certain allowable deductions, such as debts of the decedent, last illness and funeral expenses, and expenses of administering the decedent’s estate (attorney’s fees, court costs and newspaper publication fees).

TENANCY IN COMMON

A type of joint ownership that allows a person to sell his share or leave it in a will without the consent of the other owners. If a person dies without a will, his share goes to his heirs, not to the other owners.

TESTAMENTARY DISPOSITION

A disposition of property in a will.

TESTAMENTARY TRUST

A trust created by the provisions in a will. Typically comes into existence after the writer of the will dies.

TESTATE

A person who has made a will or who has died leaving a valid will; opposite of intestate.

TESTATOR

The person who makes a will.

TITLE

Ownership of property.

TOTTEN TRUST

A bank account in your name for which you name a beneficiary. Upon the death of the named holder of the account, the money transfers automatically to the beneficiary.

TRANSFER AGENT

A representative of a corporation who is authorized to transfer ownership of a corporation’s stock from one person to another.

TRUST

A written legal instrument created by a grantor during his or her lifetime or at death for the benefit of another. Property is given to a trustee to manage for the benefit of a third person. Generally the beneficiary gets interest and dividends on the trust assets for a set number of years. A legal arrangement under which one person or institution (called a “trustee”) controls property given by another person (termed a “trustor”, “grantor” or “settler”) for the benefit of a third person (called a “beneficiary”). The property itself is sometimes termed the “corpus” of trust.

TRUSTEE

The person named in a trust document who will manage the property owned by the trust and distributes any income according to the document. A trustee can be an individual or a corporate fiduciary.

TRUSTOR

The person who transfers assets into a trust for the benefit of another. (Also known as a “grantor.”)

UNIFORM TRANSFERS TO MINORS ACT

California law, which provides a way for someone to give or leave property to a minor by appointing a “custodian” to manage the property for the minor.

VESTING

Expression of the form of legal title by which property is held. Fiduciaries generally should vest legal title in themselves expressly in their fiduciary capacity. (E.g., "John Smith, as Conservator of the Estate of Bill Jones.")

No Probate Terms Defined

WARD

A person, especially a child, placed by the court under the care of a guardian.

WILL

A legal document directing the disposal of the testator’s property after their death. A will is revocable during the maker’s lifetime.

WRIT OF EXECUTION

A court order to a sheriff to enforce a judgment by levying on real or personal property of a judgment debtor to obtain funds to satisfy the judgment awarded to the judgment creditor.

WILL CONTEST

A proceeding peculiar to probate for the determination of questions of construction of a will or whether there is or is not a will. Any kind of litigated controversy concerning the eligibility of an instrument to probate as distinguished from validity of the contents of the will.

No Probate Terms Defined

No Probate Terms Defined

No Probate Terms Defined