It’s easy for those of us in the legal profession to forget that we may be familiar with a lot of terms and phrases that people outside the legal profession have never even heard of before! We have compiled a list of a few common terms and phrases that we commonly see and use in estate planning. 


Estate planning dictionary

Administrator: If the Decedent did not have a Will, the person appointed by the Court to administer the Decedent’s Estate.


Agent: A person or institution appointed to handle someone’s financial or medical decisions through a power of attorney document. 


Asset Protection Trust: A Trust created to protect assets from creditors, including for the purpose of receiving government benefits.


Attested Will: A Will signed by the Testator and two competent witnesses. 


Beneficiary: A person named in the Will or Trust to receive assets or property of the Decedent.


Codicil: A formally executed document that amends the terms of a Will so that a complete rewriting of the Will is not necessary. 


Creditor: An individual or company that is owed money by the Decedent at the Decedent’s time of death. 


Decedent: A person who has died.


Disclaimer: When an individual has a certain right, such as the right to be a Beneficiary or the right to serve as Administrator, but signs a legal document giving up such right. 


Durable Power of Attorney (Financial Power of Attorney): A legal document that allows someone to appoint an agent to step in and take care of their assets if they become incapacitated and can no longer care for the assets on their own.


Estate: The collective money, assets, property, property rights, and real estate owned by a person or Decedent.


Estate Administration: The legal process for gathering, inventorying, and then distributing the Decedent’s assets and property to Creditors, Beneficiaries, and Heirs. 


Estate Tax: A tax imposed on a decedent’s transfer of property at death. 


Executor: The person named by the Decedent in the Decedent’s Will to be appointed by the Court to administer the Estate.


Fiduciary: An individual or a bank or trust company designated to manage money or property for beneficiaries and required to exercise the standard of care set forth in the governing document under which the fiduciary acts and state law. 


Funding: The process of transferring ownership of a Trustmker’s assets to the Trust. 


Grantor: The person who created a Trust. 


Guardian: An individual or bank or trust company appointed by a court to act for a minor or incapacitated person, also known as the ward. A guardian of the person is empowered to make personal decisions for the ward. A guardian of the property manages the property of the ward. 


Health Care Power of Attorney: A legal document that allows someone to appoint an agent to step in and make medical decisions for them if they are incapacitated and can longer communicate their wishes to a doctor. 


Heir: A person who would potentially inherit from the Decedent under that state’s law if the Decedent died without a Will. 


Holographic Will: A handwritten Will written entirely in the Testator’s own handwriting and signed by the Testator. 


Insolvent Estate: An Estate where the Estate assets are insufficient to pay the debts, claims, taxes, and administrative expenses of the Estate. 


Intestate: A Decedent does not have a valid Last Will and Testament.


Irrevocable Trust: A Trust that cannot be terminated or revoked or otherwise modified or amended by the Trustmaker. 


Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship: A type of property ownership where two or more people own the property and have equal rights to the property while alive and survivorship rights at death. Rights of survivorship means that when one owner dies the entire ownership interest transfers to the surviving owner(s).


Last Will and Testament (Will): A legal document specifying who will receive the Decedent’s assets and who will serve as the Executor for the Decedent’s estate.


Living Will (Advanced Directive): A legal document in which someone provides instructions to their Health Care Agent and health care providers regarding whether or not they want life support and life-sustaining measures in an end-of-life scenario.


Nominated Executor: The person named in the Will as Executor of the Estate. 


Nuncupative Will: An oral “deathbed” Will dictated before two witnesses who were specifically requested to bear witness.


Personal Property Memorandum: A document that provides a mechanism for an individual who has already created a will or trust to later make additional gifts of items of personal property. 


Personal Representative: A generic term that refers to either an Executor or Administrative. 


Per Stirpes: A Latin phrase meaning “per branch” and is a method for distributing property according to the family tree whereby descendants take the share their deceased ancestor would have taken if the ancestor were living.


Petitioner: An individual who signs and files a motion or petition with the Court. 


Pour-Over Will: A will used in conjunction with a trust to pass title to the trust at the Testator’s death to property not transferred to the trust during the Testator’s lifetime. 


Probate: The court supervised process of proving the validity of a will and distributing property under the terms of the will or in accordance with a state’s intestacy laws in the absence of a will.


Renunciation: When an individual has a certain right, such as the right to be a Beneficiary or the right to serve as Administrator, but signs a legal document giving up such right.


Residue: The property remaining in a Decedent’s estate after payment of the estate’s debts, taxes, and expenses and after all specific gifts of property and sums of money have been distributed as directed by the Will.


Revocable Living Trust: A trust created during the Trustmaker’s lifetime over which the Trustmaker reserves the right to terminate, revoke, modify, or amend the Trust.


Settlor: The person who created a Trust. 


Special Needs Trust: A uniquely designed trust to protect the assets or future assets of a beneficiary that is disabled and/or mentally ill such that the beneficiary is unable to manage their own affairs.


Successor Trustee: The person or institution who takes over the management of living trust property when the original Trustee has died or become incapacitated. 


Testate: The Decedent died with a valid Last Will and Testament. 


Testator: A person that executed a Last Will and Testament.


Trust: An arrangement whereby property is legally owned and managed by an individual or corporate fiduciary as trustee for the benefit of another who is the equitable owner of the property.


Trust Corpus: Consists of the collective money, assets, property, property rights, and real estate titled to a Trust. 


Trustee: The individual or company nominated by the Trustmaker to manage the Trust assets in accordance with the instructions given within the Trust document. This is often the same person as the Trustmaker. 


Trustmaker: The person that created a Trust.

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