Glossary of California Probate Terms

When you become involved with a California Probate, you may run across a few unfamiliar terms. Here are the most common of those terms:

Beneficiary: A person who inherits from an estate when there is a will.

Conservator: A person who has a court-appointed fiduciary responsibility for the care of another adult.

Conservatee: The person whose care is provided for under a conservatorship.

Conservatorship: A court proceeding wherein a judge appoints a responsible person (Conservator) to care for another person (Conservatee) who cannot care for himself or herself or his or her finances.

Custodial of the Will: The person in possession of a will when the person who wrote the will dies.

Decedent: The person who died.

Executor: A person named in a will and appointed by the court to carry out the decedent’s wishes. When California real property is to be sold, this person is named as the seller of the property.

Heir: A person who inherits.

Intestate: A condition created when someone dies without leaving a will. When there is no will, the sale of the decedent’s real property often requires court confirmation.

Intestate Succession: The order of who inherits property when the decedent did not have a will.

Legatees, or Devisees: People who are named in a will.

Personal Representative: The Administrator or Executor. This is the person responsible for carrying out the decedents wishes as stated in the will and for overseeing the distribution of the estate.

Probate: The process of deciding where, how, and to whom to distribute the decedent’s estate, including the real property.

Probate Real Estate Sale: The transfer of legal title (ownership) of real property from the estate of the decedent to a buyer under the supervision of the Court.

Probate Referee: Before real property may be sold through probate, it must be appraised. This is done by a Probate Referee. In California, probate referees are appointed by the State Controller and assigned to a particular case by the court clerk. The Referee is paid for this service directly by the estate. Their fee is usually a percentage of the appraised value.

Real Property: The term used to refer to real estate, be it land or buildings.

Testate: When someone dies leaving a will.

Trust: When a person (Trustee) holds property at another person’s (Settlor’s) request for the benefit of someone else (Beneficiary).

Will: A legal document in which a person outlines their wishes about how their personal and real property will be distributed after their death.