Probate Glossary of Common Terms

Administrator: the person appointed by, and qualified before, the Clerk to administer the decedent’s estate when the decedent has no will or has a will that does not name an executor or all executors named decline to serve. 

Beneficiary: a person or entity entitled to receive a portion of the estate. 

Bond: a written promise, recorded in the Clerk’s Office, by the administrator to perform his or her obligations and duties. 

Certificate of Qualification: the written document created by the Clerk, under seal, at the time the personal representative qualifies to administer the estate. Sometimes referred to as “letters testamentary.” 

Clerk or Clerk’s Office: the Clerk of the Circuit Court that has jurisdiction to probate the will and appoint the administrator or executor of the estate. 

Commissioner of Accounts: the person appointed by the Court to oversee the reports and activities of personal representatives. 

Court: the Circuit Court that has jurisdiction to probate wills and to qualify administrators and executors. 

Creditor: a person or organization owed money by the decedent. 

Decedent: the deceased person. 

Estate: the decedent’s property, including real estate, personal property and any other assets owned or controlled by the decedent at the time of his or her death. 

Executor: the person named in the decedent’s will to administer the estate who accepts appointment by qualifying before the Clerk. 

Fiduciary: a person in a position of trust with respect to another’s property; a general term used to refer to executor, administrator or trustee. 

Heirs/Heirs at Law: the persons who would inherit the decedent’s estate if the decedent died intestate, as determined by law at the time of the decedent’s death. 

Intestate: dying without a will. 

Intestate Succession: the order in which family members are to inherit property from a decedent who dies intestate, as set forth at Virginia Code Sections 64.2-200 and 64.2-201. 

Inventory: the list or schedule describing the decedent’s assets over which the personal representative has authority. (Clerk will provide a printed form.) 

Legatee: a person who may inherit property under a will; a more technical name for beneficiary. 

Notice of Probate: the required notice of certain information given to beneficiaries and heirs. (Clerk will provide a printed form.) 

Personal Representative: a term used to mean either the executor or the administrator of the estate, as the context requires. 

Probate: the procedure whereby a will is admitted to record in the Clerk’s Office; the process of qualifying a person as executor or administrator of an estate; also sometimes used generally to refer to the entire process of administering an estate 

Qualification: the procedure whereby a person is appointed by the Clerk to serve as executor or administrator of a decedent’s estate. 

Self-Proving Affidavit: an affidavit, given under oath, by the testator and witnesses, and notarized, that proves the Will was signed and witnessed in accordance with Virginia law. 

Surety Bond:  a three party agreement that legally binds together a principal who needs the bond, an obligee who requires the bond and a surety company that sells the bond. The bond guarantees the principal will act in accordance with certain laws. If the principal fails to perform in this manner, the bond will cover resulting damages or losses. 

Testate: dying with a will. 

Testator: a person who makes a will. 

Will: a written document that directs how, when, and to whom the Testator wants his or her property distributed after death.