Estate Planning Glossary

The terminology used in Estate Planning can be confusing if you are not familiar with the wording used.  Estate lawyers/attorneys are equipped to help through the process, but it is also a good idea to be well-informed before hand.

Glossary of Estate and Probate Terminology


Administration: The time when the personal representative collects the deceased assets, pays debt and distributes the estate as arranged in will.

Administrator: The personal representative (if there is a will). The person assigned by the court to distribute the deceased assets if there is no will. Also known as the executor/executrix.

Affidavit: Sworn/written statement constructed under oath with witnesses.

Annual Exclusion: The amount of gifts allowed annually to be given to family members free of federal taxes.

Asset Protection: The act of protecting your estate during your life and after death from any legal or tax problems.

Attorney In Fact: The person assigned as agent under power of  attorney.


Beneficiary: The person(s) who receives the benefit property/estate or trust.

Bequest: To leave a gift or property as noted in a will.


Codicil: A written change to a will, not requiring a complete re-write of the will.

Conservator: The person legally anointed by the court to be legally responsible  for the property or money of a minor or incompetent person.


Decadent: Person who has died.

Deed: Document of ownership of estate.

Devise: Real estate that passes through a will.

Disclaimer: Refusal from a beneficiary to accept property or assets willed to them.

Disposition: Giving away of property.

Donee: Person who receives gifts/property.

Donor: Person who gives gifts/property.

Durable Power of Attorney: Person appointed as power of attorney through the incompetency of the donor.


Executor: Personal Representative. The person in charge of managing distribution of assets.


Family Trust: A trust constructed to efficiently benefit the decadent family members.


Grantor: Person who creates a trust. Also known as donor, trustor, grantor or settlor.

Gross Estate: The total estate value at the time of the donor’s death.

Guarantor: Person who is responsible of repayment of  a loan.

Guardian: Person designated by a court to take responsibility of property, personal decisions and income for a minor or incapacitated person.


Heir: Person who, by law, inherits property or gift from deceased relative when a will or trust is absent.

Homestead Laws: Laws that protect you personal belongings and property up to a specified dollar amount in the event of lawsuits or bankruptcies.


Incompetent: Person who is legally incapable of managing their income or property.

Interstate: When a person dies without a legal will or trust.

Interstate Succession: The process of legal distribution of a person’s assets when a legal will or trust is absent.

Irrevocable Trust: A trust that cannot be changed, terminated or revoked after final construction.

Insurance Trust: A trust that allows deceased to pass on insurance  to heirs without estate taxes.


Life Estate: The right to benefit  from a  property (not ownership) during one’s lifetime. At the time of death, the property  is not included in their personal estate.

Living trust: A trust (revocable) created during one’s lifetime.

Living Will: A legal document consisting of wishes for the right to die (medical intervention to prolong life).


Martial Deduction: A limitless tax deduction available for estate or gift transfers from an individual to their spouse at the time of death.


Notary: A state authorized clerk that legally verifies signatures of documents.


Per Capita: A method of dividing and distributing an estate equally to any living heirs.

Personal Representative: Court appointed person to manage/probate a will or trust. Another name for executor/executrix.

Power of Attorney: A written/legal authorization for an individual to act for another in certain circumstances.

Probate: The legal process of authenticating a will. Distribution of assets and estate with or without a legal will.

Probate Fees: The fees paid to the attorney handling the probate process.


Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP): A trust that provides an unlimited martial deduction to estate/property.


Revocable Trust: A trust that can be modified , amended or terminated by the grantor.

Right to Die: Term used when deciding whether prolonged or artificial life support will be used before death.


Settlor: Another name for Trustor or Grantor.

Special Needs Trust: A trust for a person with a disability that allows government financial aid for basic care, limiting use of the trust for other purposes.

Successor trustee: A trustee who takes care of a probate if the first trustee can no longer do so.


Testamentary: A will or other document effective at the time of death.

Testator: Person who signs a will. Also known as Testatrix (female).

Trust: An agreement where property is legally owned by an individual as trustee for the benefit of another (beneficiary).

Trustee: Person designated to manage trust property.


Uniform Probate Code: A code the streamlines the probate process.


Warranty Deed: A deed that legally ensures that any contracts on a property will continue after death.

Will: A legal document on distribution of estate, management of personal/professional affairs and beneficiaries.

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