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Important Terms To Know When Your Loved One Dies Without A Will

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When a loved one dies without having a will to cover what happens with the estate, it can bring about unique situations for any individual who may normally be considered an heir. In some states, the estate is automatically assignable to specific people, such as a spouse or a child. In any case, you may need the help of a probate attorney. Here is a look at some terms you may need to know in the process. 


In the most simple terms, the decedent is the deceased individual. Most often in probate court and legal documents, "decedent" will be a term used to describe the person who has passed away whose assets are in question.


When an individual dies without leaving a will, the person may be described in legal forms as dying intestate. Therefore, essentially, your loved one who died without having a will has died intestate. Further, intestacy laws in each state may determine what can happen with the individual's belongings. 

Estate Administrator 

The estate administrator, not to be confused with an estate executor, is the individual who is assigned by the court to act as the primary representative of the decedent's estate. An executor is someone who is named as the estate overseer by the decedent in their will. Being named as the administrator can take some extra steps within probate court and the help of a probate attorney. 


Renunciations are written legal statements provided by those related to the deceased. These statements renounce an individual's ability or interest to act as the administrator of the estate. If you have stepped forward to act as an administrator when there is no will and there are other relatives who could potentially have interest in doing so, you may have to obtain renunciations from each of those parties before you can be assigned as administrator by the court. 


Encumbrance is used in reference to property belonging to an estate that has some sort of restriction or claim against it. For example, you may see a property listed with encumbrance if:

  • the property has a lien against it due to outstanding debt 
  • the property is held up due to legal proceedings 
  • the property is levied because of unpaid taxes 

Properties with encumbrance have special handling rules to work through when you are acting as the administrator of the estate. Therefore, working with a probate attorney for guidance is always recommended.