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Glossary of Legal Terms

For your convenience, we offer this glossary of legal terms:

ADMINISTRATOR - A person appointed by the court to manage the assets and liabilities of an intestate decedent.

ADMINISTRATOR CUM TESTAMENTO ANNEXO (administrator c.t.a.) - An administrator appointed by the court to carry out the provisions of a will when the testator has named no executor, or the executors named in the will refuse, or are incompetent to act, or have died before performing their duties. Also termed administrator w.w.a (with will annexed).

ADMINISTRATOR DE BONIS NON (administrator d.b.n.) - An administrator appointed by the court to administer the decedent's goods that were not administered by an earlier administrator or executor. If there is no will, the administrator bears the name administrator de bonis non (abbr. administrator d.b.n.), but if there is a will, the full name is administrator de bonis non cum testamento annexo (abbr. administrator d.b.n. c.t.a.).

ASSET - An item that is owned and has value, a physical thing or an ownership right that can be sold for money, or is money. Assets may be classified as either tangible or intangible, and real or personal.

BEQUEST - Property (usually personal property other than money) disposed of in a will. See devise and legacy.

BENEFICIARY - A person designated as the recipient of funds or other property under a will, trust, insurance policy, etc.

CODICIL - A supplement or addition to a will, not necessarily disposing of the entire estate but modifying, explaining, or otherwise qualifying the will in some way.

CONSANGUINITY - The relationship of persons of the same blood or origin. Persons of collateral consanguinity have the same ancestor but do not descend or ascend from one another (for example, uncle and nephew, etc.) Persons of lineal consanguinity are directly descended or ascended from one another (for example, mother and daughter, great-grandfather and grandson, etc.).

DECEDENT - A dead person, especially one who has died recently. Also termed deceased.

DEGREE OF KINSHIP - the level of relationship between two persons related by blood, such as parent to child, one sibling to another, grandparent to grandchild or uncle to nephew, first cousins, etc., calculated as one degree for each step from a common ancestor. For example your first cousin would be 4th degree kin to you (the common ancestor being your grandparent).

DEVISE - The act of giving property (usually real property) by will. Also refers to property (usually real property) disposed of in a will. A devisee is the person to whom such property is given. Note that strictly speaking, devisees may or may not be heirs of the deceased person.

DISCLAIM - To renounce one's legal right to claim or inherit from an estate. The person making the disclaimer is treated as having predeceased the decedent. A QUALIFIED DISCLAIMER is a person's formal refusal to accept an interest in property from an estate. Usually this is so that he or she can avoid having to pay estate or gift taxes, in which case it must be done within 9 months of the decedent's death. See RENOUNCE.

DISTRIBUTEE - A beneficiary entitled to payment; an heir, especially one who obtains personal property from the estate of an intestate decedent.

ESTATE - All that a person owns, including both real and personal property. Also refers to the property that one leaves after death; the collective assets and liabilities of a dead person.

EXECUTOR - A person named by a testator to carry out the provisions of the testator's will.

FIDUCIARY - One who must exercise a high standard of care in managing another's money or property.

FORENSIC - Used in or suitable to courts of law. A forensic genealogist produces genealogical documentation and testimony to be used by courts in determining heirship.

HEIR - A person who, under the laws of intestacy, is entitled to receive an intestate decedent's property. Also termed legal heir; heir at law, lawful heir. See next of kin.

INHERIT - To receive property from an ancestor or other relative under the laws of intestate succession upon the ancestor's or relative's death; also, to receive property as a bequest or devise.

INTESTATE - A person who dies without a leaving a will is said to have died intestate. The word is sometimes used to refer to the deceased person as well.

LEGACY - A gift by will, especially of personal property and often of money.

LEGATEE - One who is named in a will to take personal property; one who has received a legacy or bequest. Also, loosely, one to whom a devise of real property is given. Note that strictly speaking, legatees may or may not be heirs of the deceased person.

LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION - A formal document issued by a probate court to appoint the administrator of an estate.

LETTERS TESTAMENTARY - The instrument by which a probate court approves the appointment of an executor under a will and authorizes the executor to administer the estate.

NEXT OF KIN - The person or persons most closely related by blood to a decedent; also the person or persons entitled to inherit personal property from a decedent who has not left a will. See heir.

PERSONAL PROPERTY - Any movable or intangible thing that is subject to ownership and not classified as real property. Also termed personalty, personal estate, movable estate. Common examples are cash, securities, clothing, jewelry, furniture, cars, artwork, etc.

PROBATE - The judicial process by which a testamentary document is established to be a valid will; the proving of a will to the satisfaction of the court. Also, loosely, to administer a decedent's estate.

QUIET-TITLE ACTION - A legal proceeding to establish a plaintiff's title (usually to real property) by compelling the adverse claimant to establish a claim or be forever estopped from asserting it.

REAL PROPERTY - Land or anything growing on, attached to, or erected on it. Also termed realty, real estate. Includes rights to mineral-, gas- and oil-producing property.

RENOUNCE - To give up or formally abandon a right or interest, as in renounce an inheritance. A RENUNCIATION is the express or tacit abandonment of a right without transferring it to another, or the act of waiving a right under a will and claiming instead a statutory share. See DISCLAIM.

RESIDUARY ESTATE - The part of a decedent's estate remaining after all debts, expenses, taxes and specific bequests and devises have been satisfied. Also termed residual estate, residue, residuary.

SIBLING - A brother or sister.

TESTATE - Having left a will at death.

TESTATE SUCCESSION - The passing of rights or property by will.

TESTATOR - A person who has made a will, especially a person who dies leaving a will.

WILL - A document by which a person directs his or her estate to be distributed upon death. Also termed testament; will and testament.