Lawyers, judges, court officers and legal documents can all use language that is hard to understand by most people. We’ve put together this short guide to help you define some of these terms and understand them in the context of your Estate Planning needs.
Decedent is the person who has died.
In NYC Courts, the affairs of a decedent are handled in the Surrogate’s Court.
Any property left behind by a person who has died is referred to as the Estate.
If a person dies with a Will, they are said to have died “Testate”. This means that the will dictates what will happen with their property and who will receive the property (i.e. beneficiaries).
If a person dies without a Will, they are said to have died “Intestate”. In this case the law will decide how the property is to be distributed, and to whom (i.e. distributees).
When a person dies with a Will (i.e. Testate), the person responsible for carrying out (i.e. executing) the terms of the Will is known as the Executor or Executrix. This person is usually named within the Will.
When a person dies without a Will (i.e. Intestate), the person responsible for carrying out the law as it relates to the Estate is called as “Adminstrator”.
Since there is no Will to dictate who will be the Administrator, the law has rules for picking a person to administer the estate. The law will first appoint the Spouse (if possible), then any children. If no children or spouse is available, they will resort to parents, siblings, nephews/neices, uncles/aunts/cousins, in that order.
If none of the above relatives are available, the court may appoint a Public Administrator to handle the Estate.
Note this is not meant as a do-it-yourself guide to Estate law. Please consult with an Estate Law Attorney before making any decisions regarding your Estate or the Estate of a loved one.