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Probate Definitions

Beneficiary - A person named in the Will to receive an interest in property from a decendent.

Bequest and Devise - Used in a Will to grant an interest in property.

Codicil - A written document made by the deceased making changes to an existing Will.

Decedent - The person who has died whose estate is subject to administration.

Domicile - Is the place where a person has his or her fixed and permanent home or residence to which he or she intends to return after any absence. It is not a special or temporary residence but a home or residence intended to be permanent for an unlimited or indefinite period.

Fair Market Value - A property’s full value is defined as its fair market value, or the amount the property will sell for in an arms-length transaction on the open market between a willing seller not obliged to sell the property and a willing buyer not obliged to purchase it.

Heir - Any person, including a surviving spouse, who under state law is entitled under the statutes of intestate succession to an interest in property of the decedent.

Interested Person or Person Interested - Includes one or more of the following:
  • Any heir of the decedent (even if not named in the Will or Codicil).
  • Any beneficiary named in the Will or Codicil, and may include a beneficiary of a trust, the trustee of any existing trust, and a nominated trustee in the Will or Codicil.
  • Personal Representative named in the Will.
Intestate - Not having made a valid Will. When a decedent has died “intestate,” the distribution of assets follows the statutes of intestate succession. 

Issue - “Issue” are children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and lineal descendants of more remote degrees, including those who occupy that relation by reason of adoption (under § 854.20, Wis. Stats.) and non-marital children and their lineal descendants (to the extent provided by § 852.05, Wis. Stats.).

Legal Description - A complete description of land recorded in a document filed with the register of deeds, such as occurs in a deed. Typically, this description is by lot number in a platted and recorded subdivision, or by “metes and bounds”. A postal address is not a “legal description.”

Per Stirpes - Property is divided into equal shares for the decedent's children, one share for each surviving child and one share for each deceased child; the deceased child’s share is divided among the surviving issue of the deceased child (i.e. by right of representation). 

Personal Representative - Any person authorized to administer a decedent’s estate. Evidence of this authorization is found in Domiciliary Letters granted by the court or by the Probate Registrar. A personal representative may be nominated in a Will or Codicil.

Probate - Technically speaking, probate is the proof of the validity of a Will in court proceedings and the probate of the assets of a decedent involves the process of administering the assets as directed under the Will. However, probate or probate administration are terms often associated with administration of the property of persons who have died intestate (leaving no Will), as well as the property of minors, persons determined to be incompetent, and persons unwilling or unable to manage their income or assets. 

Probate Registrar - An officer of the court designated to perform the functions of the court in informal estate proceedings.

Testate - Having made a valid Will. When a decedent has died “testate,” distribution of assets follow the Will.

Testamentary Documents - In addition to a Will and Codicil, any other governing document can be considered a testamentary document such as a marital property agreements.

Testamentary Trust - An arrangement outlined in a Will in which one party, appointed by the court as trustee (sometimes a bank), holds and distributes property for the benefit of another.

Trustee - A person who holds in trust the title or power over property.

Will - A document, properly executed prior to death, which directs distribution of property after death and nominates who will care for and distribute property. It may nominate someone to care for minor children and/or handle assets in a testamentary trust. In Wisconsin a Codicil and a Will, to be validly executed, must be executed with the signature of two witnesses and the signature of the testator or someone under his or her direction.