Maryland Courts

Glossary of Terms

Here are Definitions for Words About Estates That are Used Frequently.

Administration expenses – Expenses incurred after a decedent’s death in connection with handling the decedent’s final affairs. This may include funeral expenses, costs for appraising assets or preserving property during estate administration, as well as Personal Representative’s commissions and/or attorney’s fees.

Beneficiary – A person who inherits property from a decedent.

Bond – A type of insurance policy that a person may be required to have in order to serve as a Personal Representative of an estate. It protects the assets of an estate.

Caveat – A challenge to the validity of a Last Will and Testament and/or Codicil.

Claims – Debts for payment of goods or services incurred by a decedent prior to death.

Codicil – An amendment or supplement to a Last Will and Testament.
 
Commissions – Compensation to a Personal Representative or Special Administrator for his or her faithful discharge of duties in administering an estate.

Creditor – A person who has a claim for an unpaid debt against the decedent or estate.

Decedent – A person, male or female, who has died.

Elective share – Percentage of decedent’s estate (set by statute) that a surviving spouse may choose to receive instead of taking under a Will or in event of disinheritance.

Estate – Property owned by a person (including real estate, stocks or bonds, business interests, bank accounts, or tangible personal property such as a car, boat, jewelry or furnishings). Generally, ‘estate’ refers to property owned by a decedent.

Executor/Executrix – Old terminology (still used in some states) which refers to the person appointed to handle a decedent’s final affairs (current term under Maryland law is Personal Representative).

Family Allowance – An amount of money (determined by statute) due to a surviving spouse or minor child to be paid out of estate assets prior to final distribution of an estate.

Fiduciary – A person required to act for the benefit of another.

Funeral expenses – Expenses relating to the burial of a decedent (including payment to a funeral director, cremation costs, clergy, grave opening fees and marker for the grave).

Guardian of Property of a Minor – A person appointed by a court to manage the property of a minor.

Guardian of Person of a Minor – A person appointed by a court to care for a minor, including making health care and education decisions.

Heir – One who inherits property (whether real or personal) when the decedent dies intestate.

In terrorem – A Latin term referring to a provision in a Will purporting to penalize an interested person from contesting a Will.

Intestate – To die without leaving a valid Last Will and Testament. Under such circumstances, State law prescribes who will receive the decedent’s property. The laws of intestate succession generally favor the surviving spouse and children.

Last Will and Testament – A written document, signed in accordance with the requirements of State law, which describes to whom property is to be distributed at death and names a Personal Representative to handle the decedent’s final affairs. Commonly referred to as a Will.

Legatee – A person (or trust) who inherits property from a decedent pursuant to a Last Will and Testament.

Letters of Administration – A legal document authorizing a person appointed Personal Representative or Special Administrator to act on behalf of an estate.

Minor – Under Maryland law, a person (male or female) who is under the age of eighteen.

Non-probate property – Property not subject to the terms of a decedent’s Last Will and Testament, and which passes to a beneficiary outside of the probate process, such as property that had been transferred into trust prior to death, joint tenants by right of survivorship (or tenants by the entireties), payable on death or transferred upon death, or as a result of beneficiary designation such as insurance policies, IRAs, or pension plans.

Per capita – Division equally among all individuals in same class.

Personal Representative – A person appointed to handle a decedent’s final affairs (the person who is responsible for identifying decedent’s assets; paying valid debts, administration expenses, and taxes, and distributing the remaining estate to the decedent’s legatees or heirs.) In other states, a Personal Representative is sometimes referred to as an executor or executrix.

Per Stirpes – A Latin term meaning the method of dividing an estate into shares, such that if a member of class or group of distributes is deceased, the issue of that deceased distribute take the share to which the deceased distribute would have been entitled had he or she lived.

Pro Se – Acting on one’s own behalf without a lawyer.

Probate – Literally means “to prove” that a document is a decedent’s Last Will and Testament. Probate also may refer to the general process of opening and administering an estate after the death of a decedent.

Probate assets – Assets owned by a decedent that are in his or her sole name. Only probate assets are subject to a creditor’s claims and only probate assets are subject to the terms of a decedent’s Last Will and Testament and/or Codicil.
 
Resident Agent – A person in the jurisdiction where the estate proceedings are taking place authorized to accept legal service of process for another in a different state.

Successor Personal Representative – The person appointed to replace a Personal Representative who is deceased or no longer willing or able to serve.

Special Administrator – A person appointed to administer an estate but whose powers are restricted.

Trustee – A person who holds legal title to property in trust for the benefit of another person and who must carry out specific duties with regard to that property.

Will – The common term for a Last Will and Testament, which is a written document, signed in accordance with the requirements of State law, that describes to whom property is to be distributed at death and names a Personal Representative to handle the decedent’s final affairs.