Administration: The process by which the executor (personal representative) collects the decedent’s assets, pays all debts, claims, and taxes owed, then distributes the remainder of the estate according to beneficiaries noted in the will or, if there is no will, according to the state intestacy law.
Administrator: The individual or corporate fiduciary appointed by the court to manage an estate if no executor or personal representative has been appointed or if the named executor or personal representative is unable or unwilling to serve.
Advance directive (Living Will): A written instruction stating the types of care an individual wishes to have at the end of her/his life if he or she is no longer able to communicate. The advance directive is intended to guide medical professionals concerning which measures a terminally ill patient wants, or does not want, administered to preserve life.
Asset(s): Property, including real property (real estate: land or buildings) and personal property (e.g. cash, stocks, jewelry or vehicles) that belong to a person, corporation, estate, or other entity. Assets also include resources that have economic value to their owner, such as accounts receivable, inventory, and securities.
Beneficiary: A person named to receive the benefit of property from an estate or trust through the right to receive a bequest or to receive income or trust principal over a period of time.
Codicil: A formally executed document that amends the terms of a will so that a complete rewriting of the will is not necessary.
Decedent: An individual who has died.
Deed: A deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest in or a right to property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions, sealed. It is commonly associated with transferring title to property.
Descendants: An individual’s children, grandchildren, and more remotely related persons who are related by blood or legal adoption. An individual’s spouse, stepchildren, parents, grandparents, brothers, or sisters are not included. The term “descendants” and “issue” have the same meaning.
Durable power of attorney: A power of attorney that does not terminate upon the incapacity of the person giving the power of attorney.
Estate planning: A process by which an individual designs a strategy and executes a will, trust agreement, or other documents to provide for the administration of his or her assets upon his or her incapacity or death. Tax and liquidity planning are part of this process.
Estate tax: A federal tax imposed on a decedent’s transfer of property at death if the estate exceeds an exclusion limit set by law. An estate tax is different from an inheritance tax which is imposed by certain states on a beneficiary’s receipt of inherited property. Since more than 20 states have such state inheritance taxes, your estate could be subject to both federal and state taxes.
Fiduciary: An individual or a bank or trust company designated to manage money or property for beneficiaries. Fiduciaries are legally required to exercise the standard of care set forth in the governing document. Fiduciaries include executors and trustees.
Grantor: (Also known as a trustor or settlor) A person who creates or contributes property to a trust. If more than one person creates or contributes property to a trust, each person is a grantor with respect to the portion of the trust property attributable to that person’s contribution except to the extent another person has the power to revoke or withdraw that portion.
Guardian: An individual or bank or trust company appointed by a court to act for a minor or incapacitated person (ward). The guardian of the ward is empowered to make financial and personal decisions for the ward. A guardian of the property (also called a “committee”) manages the property of the ward.
Health Care Proxy: A document that appoints an individual (agent) to make health care decisions when the grantor of the power is incapacitated.
Heir: An individual entitled to a distribution of an asset or property interest under applicable state law in the absence of a will. “Heir” and “beneficiary” are not synonymous, although they may refer to the same individual in a particular case.
Income: The earnings from principal, such as interest, rent, and cash dividends. This is a fiduciary trust accounting concept and is not the same as taxable income for income tax purposes.
Intestate: An individual is said to die intestate when he or she dies without a valid will. When this occurs, the decedent’s estate is distributed in accordance with a state’s intestacy law.
Inventory: A list of the assets of a decedent or trust that is filed with the court.
Irrevocable trust: A trust that cannot be terminated or revoked or otherwise modified or amended by the grantor. As modern trust law continues to evolve, however, it may be possible to effect changes to irrevocable trusts through court actions or a process called decanting, which allows the assets of an existing irrevocable trust to be transferred to a new trust with different provisions.
Joint Tenancy: An ownership arrangement in which two or more persons own property, usually with rights of survivorship.
Life Estate: The interest in property owned by a life beneficiary (also called a life tenant) with the legal right under state law to use the property for his or her lifetime, after which title fully vests in the remainderman (the person named in the deed, trust agreement, or other legal document as being the ultimate owner when the life estate ends).
Per Stirpes: A Latin phrase meaning “per branch” is used to describe a way of distributing property according to familial ties. In a per stirpes distribution, each branch of the family receives an equal share of the estate, even if the original heir of one branch is deceased. So, if the person leaving the estate had three offspring, one of whom predeceased her or him, that deceased heir’s children would receive the share that would have been their parent’s.
Personal Representative: A person named in a will and appointed by the court to carry out the terms of the will and to administer the decedent’s estate. A personal representative may also be called an executor if male or an executrix if female.
Power of Attorney: Authorization, by a written document, that one individual may act in another’s place as agent or attorney-in-fact with respect to some or all legal and financial matters. The scope of authority granted is specified in the document and may be limited by statute in some states. A power of attorney terminates on the death of the person granting the power (unless “coupled with an interest”) and may terminate on the subsequent disability of the person granting the power (unless the power is “durable” under the instrument or state law).
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 law in the absence of a will.
Property: Anything that may be the subject of ownership, whether real or personal, legal or equitable, or any interest.
Revocable Trust: A trust created during one’s lifetime over which the grantor reserves the right to terminate, revoke, modify, or amend.
Special Needs Trust: Trust established for the benefit of a disabled individual that is designed to allow him or her to be eligible for government financial aid by limiting the use of trust assets for purposes other than the beneficiary’s basic care.
Testamentary Trust: A trust established in a person’s will to come into operation after the will has been probated and the assets have been distributed to it in accordance with the terms of the will.
Trust: An arrangement whereby property is legally owned and managed by an individual or corporate fiduciary as trustee for the benefit of another, called a beneficiary, who is the equitable owner of the property.
Trustee: The individual, bank or trust company designated to hold and administer trust property (also generally referred to as a “fiduciary”). The term usually includes original (initial), additional, and successor trustees. A trustee has the duty to act in the best interests of the trust and its beneficiaries and in accordance with the terms of the trust instrument. A trustee must act personally (unless delegation is expressly permitted in the trust instrument), with the exception of certain administrative functions.
Will: A document specifying the beneficiaries who are to inherit the testator’s assets and name a representative to administer the estate and be responsible for distributing the assets to the beneficiaries. A will is also the place in which the testator names guardians chosen for minor children should the testator dies before they reach maturity and are left without a parent.