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Probate Terms to Know 

Leet Law Nov. 9, 2022

Probate Law book and wooden gavel in the courtEstate planning is a crucial part of life. However, many folks don’t realize its importance until a loved one passes. This situation leaves a trail of paperwork and avoidable court proceedings. While preparing or going through the probate process, it’s essential that you understand some of the terms involved.

At Leet Law, we help our clients understand these terms so that they can create their estate plans effectively. If you’re in the San Jose, California, area, including San Fransisco, Oakland, Palo Alto, and the rest of the bay area, reach out today for guidance.  

What Is Probate? 

Probate refers to the process in which property passes from a deceased person to other individuals. The recipients or beneficiaries don’t necessarily need to be family members. However, if the deceased person passes away without a will, the next of kin stands to take control of the deceased’s assets. 

The probate process is much easier with a will. The court approves the will, and an executor carries out the will’s instructions. Without a will, the probate process becomes much more complex. The court must decide who is entitled to control the assets. The claiming party or parties must prove their kinship or claims. This process can take months to resolve. 

Important Probate Terms to Know 

When going through the probate process, you’re going to come into contact with words like beneficiary, executor, intestate, and more. Make sure to be prepared the best you can as you learn common probate terms.  


The administrator is the person in charge of compiling assets and ensuring their efficient administration throughout the probate court process. The estate has an administrator when there is no will. 


A beneficiary is a person who receives the assets named in the will. Beneficiaries are also next of kin who receive assets when there is no will. 

Creditor Claim 

Creditors are people or institutions that the estate owes money to. When a person passes away, creditors (such as banks) can file a creditor claim to ensure they collect on the outstanding debt. Insurance payouts are a good way to cover creditor claims. 


An executor does the same job as an administrator. The difference is that an executor is named in the will, whereas an administrator is not. 

Fiduciary Duty 

Administrators and executors have a fiduciary duty meaning they are obligated to ensure the estate is managed responsibly. This responsibility means that administrators and executors cannot squander or mismanage the estate assets. 


Guardianship refers to a court-appointed adult (not the parents) who is assigned to oversee a child and their property. Please note that guardianship and custody are two separate issues. 

Intestate Succession 

In essence, “intestate” means that a person dies without a legally filed will in place. Generally speaking, next of kin serve as administrators throughout the probate process. However, attorneys or financial institutions may serve as administrators until the court orders the transfer of ownership to beneficiaries. 

Probate Account 

This term refers to the financial records of the estate. A probate account includes properties, cash, investments, and liabilities.  


This term is the opposite of intestate. Testate means the deceased person had legally filed a will before their death. 


This document provides legal proof of a person’s plans for their estate after their passing. California residents in the San Jose and San Francisco areas can contact our estate or probate attorney to produce their will legally. While it is not legally required to have an attorney to make a will, it is highly recommended that you consult with a trusted estate planning or probate attorney. 

Hiring an Estate Planning or Probate Attorney in California 

The best time to consult with an estate planning or probate attorney is as soon as possible. We strongly encourage our clients to file their will sooner rather than later. A will saves your loved ones and beneficiaries time and effort by sidestepping the probate process. 

If you’re ready to protect your loved ones after you’re gone, reach out to our skilled probate attorney at Leet Law. We work diligently and bring our best effort to help you protect the people you love most.