Who Are Parties to an Estate?

When people pass away, their assets go through probate. The parties to an estate are the people involved in the probate process.

Last will and testament document with fountain pen.When people pass away, their assets go through probate — a legal process that distributes the person’s assets after death. The parties to an estate are the people involved in the probate process.

Although not technically a party to the estate, the deceased person — called the testator or decedent — is essential. When people make wills, they can choose beneficiaries, selecting people who have an interest in their estate. In the case of those who die without having made a will, state law often dictates who inherits the estate and determines the parties involved.

Parties to an estate include:

  • Beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are people named in a will. Testators — people making wills — can leave assets to specific beneficiaries, such as family members and friends. Anyone a testator chooses can be a beneficiary. When making wills, people can leave a beneficiary a portion of the total estate and make specific bequests to individuals, leaving them personal items of sentimental or monetary value.
  • Heirs-at-law. State law also provides a framework for who should inherit an estate if a person dies without a will. The distributes or heirs-at-law are the people who have a right to inherit if the decedent died intestate (without a will).
  • Fiduciaries. The fiduciary is the person tasked with carrying out the estate plan. If the decedent had a will in place, the fiduciary is the executor named in the will. An administrator will handle their affairs if a person dies without a will. Often, the administrator is a close family member, such as a surviving spouse or child.
  • Creditors. Creditors are also parties to an estate. When a person dies with outstanding debt, creditors can receive money from the decedent’s estate.

In specific cases, there might be other parties to an estate:

  • Trustees. Trustees become involved when a person establishes a testamentary trust — a trust created in a will.
  • Guardians. A guardian may be a party to the estate when a person leaves behind minor children. Individuals can name guardians for underage children in their wills.

Learn more about the basics of estate administration.

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