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Tampa Estate Planning Attorney > Blog > Estate Planning > Introduction to Probate and Estate Law Vocabulary

Introduction to Probate and Estate Law Vocabulary


A big part of what lawyers learn in law school is the terminology related to the various practice areas of law.  When you are involved in a legal case, the vocabulary related to it becomes a part of your life.  For example, if you are divorced and your ex-spouse disagreed strongly about alimony and division of property, you are probably all too familiar with terms like “pendente lite” and “contempt of court.”  Probate and estate litigation are their own branch of law with its own vocabulary.  When you first go online to find out what you need to do to settle a deceased family member’s estate, the instructions can be so full of unfamiliar terminology that they seem incomprehensible.  After a conversation with a Tampa probate lawyer, you might feel equipped to handle probate by yourself, or you might decide that you need to hire a lawyer.

Terms Related to Wills

  • Will – a document specifying how a person wants his or her property distributed after his or her death. The will should be signed by the author (testator) in the presence of two witnesses.
  • Testator – the person who wrote the will and whose property is discussed in the will.
  • Intestate – without a will. When a person dies intestate, the court distributes the person’s assets to his or her spouse or children at the end of probate.


The property of a deceased person, including bank accounts, real estate properties, and personal possessions.  At the probate, the estate gets a tax ID number; like a business, it has income, expenses, and tax obligations, as well as at least one person who is authorized to make transactions on its behalf.  When probate is complete, the estate settles, and its assets are distributed to the deceased person’s heirs.

Personal Representative

The person who acts on behalf of the estate during probate.  “Personal representative” is the official term used in Florida, but an older term is executor of a will.  Most wills nominate a personal representative, but if no personal representative is specified or if the deceased person died intestate, you can request that the court appoint you as personal representative.


The process in court where unfinished business related to the deceased person’s finances is completed, and the instructions in the will are carried out.  Probate involves filing a tax return on behalf of the estate; it can also include paying the deceased person’s debts and selling some of the deceased person’s property in order to pay these.  During probate, you must publish notices inviting creditors and prospective heirs to claim money from the estate.  One of the most common disputes that can happen during probate is when the deceased person wrote more than one version of the will, and the person’s family members disagree about which one represents the person’s true wishes.

Contact an Attorney Today for Help

Probate isn’t scary or prohibitively expensive, but it is better to hire a lawyer if there are disputes about the estate.  Contact Tampa probate lawyer David Toback for more information.





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