What are the differences between “testate” and “intestate”?

Intestacy: when the decedent[1] passed away without a last will and testamentThis is known as dying intestate.

Testacy: when the decedent passed away with a last will and testament.  This is known as dying testate.

If the Decedent dies testate with a valid will but those named to be the personal representative[2] are unable to serve in that capacity:

·         A Petition for Probate of Will & Letters of Administration With Will Annexed is filed, and an Administrator With Will Annexed is appointed:

  • The Personal Representative is an appointed “Administrator”
  • The distributees are beneficiaries, who take under the will.

If the Decedent dies testate with a valid will naming a Personal Representative who is able to serve, but all decedent’s beneficiaries have died before the decedent:

·         A Petition for Probate of Will & Letters Testamentary is filed, and an executor(trix)[3] is appointed

·         The personal representative is a named “Executor(trix)”

·         The distributees will be decedent’s heirs, who take according to state statute

Below is a chart with additional comparisons between Testate and Intestate:



Died with a valid Will No valid Will
Will was signed by the Testator (person who made the Will)
“Testate” Decedent with a “Testate” Estate (with a Will) “Intestate” Decedent, having an “Intestate” Estate (without a Will)
Petition for Probate of Will & Letters Testamentary Petition for Letters of Administration
“Executor” of Will “Administrator” of the Estate
Personal Representative was named in the Will Personal Representative is appointed according to Priority List in State Statute
Distributees (a person entitled to take or share in the property of a decedent) are called “Beneficiaries” Distributees are “Heirs” or “Heirs-at-Law”
Distributees are named in the Will Distributees are determined by State statute
Beneficiaries receive whole items Heirs receive shares of the Estate



1.      http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/probate-faq-29135.html

2.      http://www.americanbar.org/groups/real_property_trust_estate/resources/estate_planning/the_probate_process.html

3.      http://estate.findlaw.com/wills/what-happens-if-i-die-without-a-will-.html

4.      http://www.wa-probate.com/Instructions/Probate-FAQ.htm#Whats%20the%20probate%20process,%20simply%20&%20generally

5.      http://statelaws.findlaw.com/washington-law/washington-probate-laws.html

6.      http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/washington-probate-an-overview.html

7.      http://estate.findlaw.com/probate/the-probate-basics.html

[1] Decedent: a person who has passed away

[2] Personal Representative: the person named in your will to handle your estate

[3] Executor(trix): person responsible for taking care of a deceased person’s remaining financial obligations, including disposing of property, to paying bills and taxes.

Attorney Robert Dickson

Attorney Robert DicksonThe core of Rob’s legal practice is civil litigation, with an emphasis on construction, real estate, and business law. He represents a wide range of clients, from large construction companies to individual homeowners. His is a practical approach to law, which strives to balance the need for a successful legal outcome with a client’s financial goals (or constraints). Outside of his private practice, Rob serves as an adjunct professor at the Seattle University School of Law where he teaches real estate litigation. [ Attorney Bio ]