Glossary/Estate Planning Terms

Administration of Estate: Supervision of a decedent's estate by an executor/administrator and the court.

Administrator: One given the authority to settle the estate of the decedent. Also called an executor or personal representative. The person given the authority to settle your estate at your death. The term administratrix can also be used interchangeably. Both these words usually refer to court appointed people when there is no will specifically stating someone.

Beneficiary: One entitled to profit, benefit or advantage from a contract or estate. A person who receives any assets from a will or a living trust is a beneficiary. An alternate beneficiary is someone who receives any assets as a result of the primary beneficiary's death

Codicil: A written document or amendment of a Will.

Conservator: A person appointed to act on behalf of another person.

Conservatorship: A formal proceeding in which the court appoints a person to act on behalf of another in business and/or personal matters.

Custodian: Someone who is named to take care of assets going to a beneficiary (usually a child) who is not old enough to manage those assets. In states that enforce the Uniform Transfer to Minor Act, custodians are the people who manage the property until the minor reaches the age at which state law says he or she can receive the property. In some states, one can specify at which age the assets are to be received. Custodians act like trustees over the minor's assets and can usually use the assets toward the health, education, and support of the minor.

Decedent: A deceased (dead) person.

Estate: The total of your assets and liabilities, real and personal property.

Fiduciary: A person acting for another person. From the Latin fiducia, meaning "trust". A person (or a business, like a bank or stock brokerage) who has the power and obligation to act for another (often called the beneficiary) under circumstances that require total trust, good faith and honesty. Examples of fiduciaries: trustee of a trust, business advisors, attorneys, guardians, administrators of estates, real estate agents, bankers, stockbrokers, title companies, or anyone who undertakes to assist someone who places complete confidence and trust in that person or company.

Gift Tax: A tax levied on gifts of property to supplement estate and inheritance tax. Exemptions and exceptions to the tax may apply.

Guardian: A person named in a will to care for minor children in the event the legal parent dies or is no longer able to care for the minors.

Heir: One who inherits property. A person entitled to receive property by state intestacy laws if he deceased did not make arrangements for distributing property before death.

Incapacity: The condition or state of being incapable of handling one's own affairs, either by mental or physical incapacity.

Issue: A term generally meaning all your children and their children down through the generations, including grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. Also called "lineal descendants."

Joint Tenancy: A holding of property by several persons in such a way that any one of them can act as owner of the whole and take the property by survivorship. When one owner dies, the remaining joint tenants automatically become owners of the deceased owner's share. Joint tenant interest in property avoids probate. So when a joint tenant dies, his or her share does not have to go through probate- it goes directly to the other joint tenant(s).

Last Will and Testament: An instrument (legal document) whereby one makes a disposition (distribution) of his or her property to take effect after his or her death.

Powers of Appointment: Power vested in an individual to make decisions affecting disposition and distribution of assets.

Real Property: Land, real estate.

Remainder: Property which remains after the initial distribution of an estate.

Successor Trustee: Individual who succeeds to the power to manage trust assets. A successor trustee can also be a company, firm or institution.

Testator: A person who dies leaving a valid Will. He or she is said to have died testate.

Will: A statement that spells out your wishes at your death, specifically your desires about the distribution of your assets. Also called a Last Will and Testament. To be valid, the will must be signed by the person who made it (the testator), dated (but an incorrect date will not invalidate the will), and witnessed by two people. In some states the witnesses must be disinterested, or in some states, a gift to a witness is void but the will is valid. There are many types of wills: holographic wills are hand-written; nuncupative wills are spoken (oral) wills, and so on.