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Probate Terminology

Knowledgeable Houston Estate Planning Attorneys Helping Family Members Understand and Navigate the Probate Process

When someone dies, chances are that one of their loved ones will need to probate their estate before anyone named in the deceased’s will can inherit any estate assets. While being named as a personal representative is an honor in that it shows your loved one placed a high amount of trust in you, the probate process is unfamiliar to most. As a result, it’s common for newly appointed personal representatives to feel overwhelmed by their duties.

At the Houston probate administration law firm of McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, our team of attorneys put together a list of commonly used probate terminology in hopes of providing personal representatives with the knowledge they need to get started. While understanding the terms used in the probate process is a good start, if you have additional questions or concerns, you should reach out to one of our probate lawyers for assistance.

Personal Representative – A personal representative is an individual appointed to oversee the administration of the deceased’s estate. Often, a personal representative is named in the deceased’s will. However, if someone died without a will or appointed someone who was unwilling or unable to serve as a personal representative, the court will appoint one. While Texas uses the term personal representative, other states may refer to this role as an “administrator” or “executor.”

Decedent – Decedent is another word for the deceased. Both “deceased” and “decedent” are often used interchangeably in the probate context.

Estate – The term estate refers to the decedent’s property. However, not all property is considered a part of a person’s probate estate. For example, Texas law carves out certain assets that are exempt from the probate requirement. Additionally, some assets, such as those that are owned jointly or have a beneficiary, payable-on-death, or transfer-on-death designation, are not considered probate assets.

Assets – Assets refer to anything of value, including cash, bank account balances, real estate, collections, vehicles, furniture, jewelry, investments and cryptocurrency.

Liabilities – Liabilities are any debts that the decedent owed at the time of their death. All outstanding liabilities must be satisfied from the probate estate before the court will allow a personal representative to distribute any inheritances.

Ademption – Ademption occurs when the deceased leaves a beneficiary or heir something in their will that they no longer own. An example of this would be if the deceased mentions leaving their 1972 Corvette to their grandson in their will; however, the deceased sold the vehicle prior to their death. In this case, the gift would be adeemed.

Abatement – Abatement is the term used to describe a situation where certain gifts mentioned in a will are reduced to cover the estate’s debts or expenses. For example, say that the deceased’s estate is valued at $500,000 after settling all debt obligations; however, the deceased’s will mentions leaving $100,000 to each of their seven grandchildren. In this case, each of the children’s inheritances may need to be reduced, or abated.

Bequeath – A legal term used to describe one’s intent to transfer their property, usually after their death.

Will Contest – A will contest comes up when someone challenges the validity of the deceased’s will, usually on the basis of undue influence, a lack of capacity, revocation, duress or coercion.

Family Allowance – Under Texas probate law, the court may set aside a certain amount of money to be used by the deceased’s spouse, minor children and incapacitated adult children for living expenses. The amount of the family allowance is set by the court and intended to provide for the surviving loved ones for one year.

Do You Have Questions About the Texas Probate Process?

If you were recently appointed as a personal representative, this list of probate terminology may be enough to familiarize you with the basics, but you will probably still have questions. If so, reach out to the dedicated Houston probate lawyers at McCulloch & Miller, PLLC. At McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, we have more than 40 years of experience guiding clients and their loved ones through the probate process. We are immediately available to schedule a consultation to go over your questions and discuss how we can help. To learn more, call us at (713) 333-8900. You can also connect with us through our secure online contact form.

Client Reviews
"In late February, 2020, I needed to file from out of state for successor Letters Testamentary in Harris County for my father's estate. The attorney I used, Ryan Cook, returned my call promptly, gave me the option of hourly or flat rate fee, explained what would be involved, then let his paralegal and other staff handle most of the contact with me. I worked with Crystal. She was very responsive and tech savvy. As the pandemic hit and communication everywhere was getting difficult and the probate court had limited access, these women continued to stay in touch and help me through the process, with us all working remotely. We were all experiencing a new way of being in the world and all three of them handled it with grace, humanity and efficiency." L.B.
"I would highly recommend this law firm because of their caring and professional staff. Mr. David Miller and Crystal Collins have gone above and beyond to help our family get all our elderly parents legal paperwork up to date. We are extremely appreciative for all they have done for us." A.B.
"I engaged the services of McCulloch & Miller to assist me with the difficult task of navigating Medicaid eligibility requirements for a close family member. I found them to be knowledgeable and thorough. Working with Darby was a pleasure. She took the worry and aggravation of dealing with a government entity off my shoulders. I highly recommend McCulloch and Miller for eldercare issues." B.S.
"We needed assistance with a Medicaid application and McCulloch & Miller were extremely helpful and expedited the paperwork promptly. We also greatly appreciated the professionalism, and caring manner in which Darby handled our case. If you need assistance, we highly recommend this firm!" P.M.