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After Loss Lingo: Top 10 Words to Know After a Death

When someone has died, all of the things that need to be sorted out and dealt with can be overwhelming enough. On top of that, it can seem like there’s a different language being spoken with all of the jargon and unfamiliar terms thrown around. Here’s a roundup of some of the most common words used after a death that are important to understand.

Decedent - (pronounced duh-SEE-dent) The person who has died.

Estate - (pronounced es-TATE) Commonly used to refer to everything the decedent OWED and OWNED at the time of their death.

Assets - (pronounced ASS-ets) Property, including real property (land or buildings) and personal property (for example, cash, stocks, or vehicles) that belong to the decedent.

Beneficiary - (pronounced beh-neh-FI-sha-ree) Person who is entitled to receive benefits (usually assets) under a will or trust.

Testate / Intestate - (pronounced TEST-ate and IN-test-ate) Testate is when the decedent left a valid will, intestate means without a valid will. (These are adjectives, most commonly used in phrases like “died intestate.”)

Executor - (pronounced ex-EC-yoo-ter) The person or entity named in a will who has the responsibility of carrying out the terms of the will (that is, collecting the decedent’s assets, paying the debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries).

Administrator - (pronounced ad-MIN-i-stray-ter) A person appointed by the court to take care of the business (debts and assets) of the estate of a person who left no valid will.

Probate - (pronounced PRO-bait) The court process in which a will is determined to be valid and a deceased person’s estate is distributed in accordance with the terms of the will or the state’s law of intestate succession.

Letters testamentary - (pronounced test-ah-MEN-ta-ree) A document issued by the probate court authorizing the executor of the will to take control of the decedent’s estate. Also sometimes called a letter of testamentary. The equivalent for administrators when there is no will is called letters of administration.


After loss professionals serve as an extra set of hands, estate project manager, and empathetic detective with the work of settling an estate after a loved one has died. Check out the directory to find one near you, or learn more about becoming one here.

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