Glossary of New York Estate Administration Terms

If you are preparing your will, or if you have been named as executor in a will, you may be encountering some unfamiliar terminology. It is important to know the meaning of the terms used in the administration of estates, so that you can begin to understand how wills are probated and what the responsibilities of a fiduciary are. This glossary defines some of the terms that are used in the administration of estates in New York State. More information can be found at the website of the Public Administrator of New York County.


  • Administrator: A fiduciary appointed to administer the estate of a decedent who died without a will.
  • Decedent: A person who has died.
  • Distributee: A person entitled to take some or all of the property of a decedent who died intestate. Also called an heir.
  • Domicile: The permanent place where a decedent lived. If a decedent lived in more than one place, then the domicile is where the person intended to return.
  • Estate: The total property of a decedent.
  • Executor: A fiduciary who is named in a will to administer the estate of a decedent.
  • Fiduciary: Also called a personal representative, a person appointed by the Surrogate’s Court to administer or manage the estate of a decedent. A fiduciary may be an executor if named to that position in a will, or an administrator if appointed to administer the estate of a decedent who died intestate.
  • Intestate: Describes a person who died without a will.
  • Personal Representative: Another term for a fiduciary.
  • Probate: The process by which the Surrogate’s Court recognizes the validity of a will. When a will is recognized as valid, it is admitted to probate, and the executor is usually appointed to administer the estate.
  • Public Administrator: The Office of the Public Administrator administers estates in each New York county, and is the default fiduciary, administering estates when no one else is available, such as when a decedent dies intestate and there are no distributees, or the distributees are ineligible to serve as administrator.
  • Surrogate’s Court: The New York county courts that oversee the estates of decedents. In other states, these may be called probate courts.


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