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Probate and Estate Planning Glossary

Beneficiary – A person named to receive property or money in a will, trust or insurance policy

Bequest – The act of leaving property to someone in a will

Codicil – A legal modification or addition to a will

Decedent – Used particularly in the probate context to refer to the person who has recently died

Devisee – A person designated to get property or money in a will

Estate – In the probate context, the totality of a person’s assets, including real estate, personal property and money

Estate Planning – Making comprehensive arrangements for the transfer of your estate to others at death or in anticipation of death, including minimizing taxation

Estate Tax – A tax on the distribution of very large estates after the owner’s death

Gift Tax – A tax on certain large money or property transfers that you give gratuitously during your lifetime

Guardian Ad Litem – A person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a minor or incapacitated person in a probate or other legal proceeding

Guardian or Conservator – A person appointed in a legal proceeding to assist a minor or incapacitated person with matters such as asset management, financial administration or personal care

Heir – A person designated by state law to inherit property from a person who dies without a will

Incompetent – A person without the mental capacity to manage his or her own affairs

Intestate – A person who dies without a valid will

Life Insurance – An insurance policy on a person’s life payable at death to his or her named beneficiary

Living Will – A legal document designating the level of medical intervention the person prefers if he or she becomes unable to express his or her wishes, including provision of life-sustaining treatment; may also name someone to make medical decisions for the will maker if he or she becomes incapacitated; sometimes called a medical power of attorney, health care power of attorney, medical directive, health care proxy or advance directive

Nonprobate Asset – An asset like a jointly owned bank account or jointly owned real estate parcel that automatically passes to another person upon the owner’s death outside of any will and without a legal proceeding

Personal Representative – A person appointed by the court to manage a decedent’s estate throughout the probate process; in some states called an executor or administrator

Power of Attorney – A legal document designating another person to act on your behalf in financial and legal affairs immediately or should you become incapacitated in the future

Probate – The court proceeding that pays debts and distributes property of a decedent as spelled out in his or her will

Probate Asset – An asset that is part of a decedent’s estate and is available to pay valid debts or be distributed to beneficiaries pursuant to instructions in a will

Special-Needs Trust – A trust designed to manage assets, usually money, for a beneficiary with disabilities in such a way that eligibility for government assistance is not compromised

Testator – A person making a will

Trust – A legal vehicle for holding and managing assets, usually money, by a third party on behalf of a beneficiary; may be revocable or irrevocable

Trustee – The person with the legal duty to manage trust assets for the benefit of the beneficiary

Ward – An incapacitated person or minor child with a guardian or conservator

Will – A legally binding document executed by a person to direct disposition of his or her property at death; a will may also name a guardian for surviving minor children of the testator

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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