Probate Terminology – What Do These Terms Mean?

Discover what the terms commonly used in probate proceedings mean.

Probate terminology can be confusing. Even Phoenix Probate lawyers sometimes misuse and confuse probate terms.   But you need to know the language if you are to understand what is going on. So here are some common terms used in estate proceedings along with definitions.   More definitions can be found in A.R.S. §14-1201.

Application is a written request directed to the probate registrar for an order of informal probate or appointment.

Petition is a written request to the Court for an Order after notice to interested parties.

Beneficiary most commonly refers to anyone who has a present or future interest in trust assets, either vested or contingent.

Devisee refers to a person named in a will to receive property upon the Testator’s death.

Heir refers to a person who is entitled to property of a deceased person by the statutes of intestate succession.

Child is a person, either naturally born or legally adopted, entitled to take from a parent under the statutes of intestate succession. The term child excludes a stepchild, foster child, grandchild or more remote descendant.

Claims are debts and liabilities of a decedent, a protected person or their estates.

Guardian is a person who has qualified by testamentary or court appointment to care for a minor or incapacitated person.

Ward is the person that a guardian cares for.

Conservator is a person who has been court appointed to manage the estate of a protected person.

Distributee is any person who has received money or property of a decedent from the decedent’s personal representative.

Estate consists of the money and property of a decedent, trust or protected person.

Exempt Property means property of an estate that is exempt from creditor’s claims as described in ARS 14-2403.

Fiduciary is a person of trust and confidence including a personal representative, a trustee, guardian or conservator.

Formal Proceedings refers to proceedings before a Judge with notice to interested persons.

Informal Proceedings are those court proceedings conducted without notice to interested persons by an officer of the court such as a probate registrar.

Interested Person includes any person who has any interest in or claim against an estate of a decedent, trust estate or estate of a protected person. This can include a creditor, trustee, heir, devisee, child, spouse or beneficiary.

Issue means a descendant or descendants of a person.   Usually refers to children of a person.

Letters are documents of authority issued by the court including letters testamentary, letters of guardianship, letters of administration and letters of conservatorship.

Person refers to either an individual or an organization.

Personal Representative includes an executor, administrator, successor personal representative.

Testator refers to a person who creates a will. It can be used for a person of either gender.

The lawyers at Platt and Westby, P.C. have been practicing in the area of Probate and Estate Planning and Administration for over 40 years. Contact any of our Phoenix Probate lawyers at 602-277-4441 or use the e-mail contact utility on our website at to schedule a no-fee initial conference concerning any Probate or Estate Planning matter. We will answer your questions and, where appropriate, suggest potential solutions.

Platt and Westby, P.C. has offices in Phoenix, Arrowhead, Avondale, Scottsdale and Gilbert, Arizona.