Probate Terms You Should Know

With more than 45,000 estate cases filed each year, Georgia’s probate courts are busy. Thoughtful estate planning offers adults a way to minimize the intervention of Georgia’s courts in their estates or avoid probate altogether. Every estate is unique and deserves a well-crafted plan, no matter how small or large.

Attorney Noreen Banks-Ware has guided clients in Lithonia, Georgia, Decatur, Covington, Lawrenceville, Conyers, and McDonough for more than 30 years. Focused on family law, including probate, she has worked with some of her clients for a lifetime.

Attorney Banks-Ware understands that estate planning and probate can be confusing. The legal terminology is uniquely challenging to those who are not immersed in this area of law every day. Below are some of the terms you will encounter during the process.

Administrator: Although the probate court renders decisions on certain matters related to the settlement of a decedent’s estate, the personal representative is the individual authorized by the court to represent the estate. When someone dies without a will, the court appoints an administrator to serve as the personal representative. The court often appoints a family member in this role.

Beneficiary: A beneficiary is an individual or entity which benefits from the estate by receiving property or assets from the estate via the decedent’s will, trust, or other documents. Beneficiaries of a will receive their distribution as part of the probate process. Beneficiaries of a trust receive distribution directly since a trust is not subject to probate.

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

Guardianship: A guardianship is the legal relationship between a guardian and a ward. A guardian is appointed by the court to supervise and manage the personal and/or financial affairs of a minor child whose parents are deceased.

Heir: Although a beneficiary is someone specifically named to receive property in a will or trust, an heir is someone who would receive property from an estate, based on a familial relationship, when the decedent did not have a will at the time of their death.

Intestate Succession: When someone dies without a will, their estate is distributed according to a familial order specified under the law, referred to as the “law of intestate succession.” In Georgia, a surviving spouse and the decedent’s children take priority, followed by the decedent’s parents, then siblings. Intestate succession is used despite the decedent’s wishes if there is no valid will, which is why having a will or trust is so important.

Personal Representative: The personal representative is the individual authorized to represent the estate and to administer the distribution of the estate in probate.

Probate: Probate is the judicial process required to validate or invalidate a will, authorize a personal representative, and supervise the distribution and disposal of a decedent’s estate. The probate process provides a forum for claims against the estate from heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, and others with an interest in the assets of the estate.

Testate: Testate is the term used to describe an estate for which there is a valid will.

Will: A will is a fully executed legal document in which someone appoints an executor and directs the distribution of their estate following their death. Wills are revocable, which means the maker of the will can change it throughout their lifetime.

Let E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm LLC Help

Although there are dozens more terms used in estate planning and probate, these are some of the most commonly used ones. Knowing them may offer insight into why an estate plan is so important to preserving your legacy. You should make those decisions, not the probate court.

Attorney Banks-Ware can help you craft an estate plan that will ensure your legacy on your terms. She has helped dozens of clients from Lithonia, Georgia, create and update their plans for when they are no longer here.

You never know when the inevitable will occur. Don’t put off your estate planning. Call E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm LLC now to schedule a time to talk.


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