Commonly Used Estate Planning Terms
Administration: the process during which the executor or personal representative collects the decedent's assets, pays all debts and claims, and distributes the residue of the estate according to the will or the state law intestacy rules (when there is no will).
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.
Attorney-in-Fact: the person named as agent under a power of attorney to handle the financial affairs of another.
Beneficiary: a person who will 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.
Conservator: an individual or a corporate fiduciary appointed by a court to care for and manage the property of an incapacitated person, in the same way as a guardian cares for and manages the property of a minor.
Decedent: an individual who has died.
Descendants: an individual's children, grandchildren, and more remote persons who are related by blood or because of 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 making 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 tax imposed on a decedent's transfer of property at death.
Executor: 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. May also be call a personal representative.
Family Trust: a trust established to benefit an individual's spouse, children or other family members.
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. Fiduciaries are executors and trustees.
Grantor: a person, including a testator, who creates, or contributes property to a trust. The grantor is also sometimes referred to as the "settlor," the "trustor," or the "donor."
Health care power of attorney: a document that appoints an individual (an "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 absences of a will. "Heir" and "beneficiary" are not synonymous, although they may refer to the same individual in a particular case.
Intestate: when one dies without a valid will, such that the decedent's estate is distributed in accordance with a state's intestacy law.
Irrevocable Trust: a trust that cannot be terminated or revoked or otherwise modified or amended by the grantor.
Joint Tenancy: an ownership arrangement in which two or more persons own property, usually with rights of survivorship.
Living Trust: a trust created by an individual during his or her lifetime, typically as a revocable trust. Also referred to as an "inter vivos" trust, "revocable living trust" or "loving trust."
Pour Over Will: a will used in conjunction with a revocable trust to pass title at death to property not transferred to the trust during lifetime.
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.
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.
Revocable Trust: a trust created during lifetime over which the grantor reserves the right to terminate, revoke, modify, or amend.
Settlor: term frequently used for one who establishes or settle a trust.
Tenancy in Common: a co-ownership arrangement under which each owner possesses rights and ownership of an undivided interest in the property, which may be sold or transferred by gift during lifetime or at death.
Testamentary: relating to a will or other document effective at death.
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.
Testator: a person who signs a will. If a female, may be referred to as the testatrix.
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.
Trust Instrument: a document, including amendments thereto, executed by a grantor that contains terms under which the trust property must be managed and distributed.
Trustee: the individual or 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 writing specifying the beneficiaries who are to inherit the testator's assets and naming a representative to administer the estate and be responsible for distributing the assets to the beneficiaries.
Commonly Used Family Law Terms
Alimony/Spousal Support: an allowance made by one spouse to the other for support pending or after legal separation or divorce.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Methods of resolving legal disputes without going to trial, in a less adversarial manner, such as through arbitration or mediation.
Annulment: a declaration by a court that marriage is invalid.
Arrearage: something unpaid and overdue (i.e. child support arrears).
Burden of Proof: the responsibility of producing sufficient evidence in support of a fact or issue and favorably persuading the trier of fact (as a judge or jury) regarding that fact or issue.
Child Support: payment made for the support of the children of divorced or separated parents while the children are minors or until they reach an age set by the separation agreement or in a court order.
Child Support Guidelines: guidelines established by statute or rule in each jurisdiction that set forth the manner in which child support must be calculated, generally based on the income of the parents and the needs of the children.
Community Property: any property or debt acquired by either spouse during the marriage and before separation.
Complainant: the party (as a plaintiff or petitioner) who makes the complaint in a legal action or proceeding.
Custody: care and maintenance of a child that includes the right to direct the child's activities and make decisions regarding the child's upbringing.
Default: failure to do something required by duty (as under a contract or by law).
Dissolution: the ending of a marriage.
Divorce: the dissolution of a valid marriage granted.
Domestic Violence: violence committed by one family or household member against another.
Equitable Distribution: the distribution of marital assets by a court in a divorce action in accordance with statutory guidelines that are designed to produce a fair but not necessarily equal division of the property.
Garnishment: a remedial device used by a creditor to have property of the debtor or money owed to the debtor that is in the possession of a third party attached to pay the debt to the creditor (i.e. wage garnishment for unpaid child or spousal support).
Guardian: one who has or is entitled to or legally appointed to the care and management of the person or property of another.
Guardianship: a legal arrangement under which one person (a guardian) has the legal right and duty to care for another (the ward) and his or her property.
Joint Custody: custody of a child shared by divorced or separated parents who alternate physical custody of and share in decisions regarding the child.
Joint Legal Custody: the sharing, by both parents, of the right to make important decisions about a child's welfare.
Joint Physical Custody: the sharing, by both parents, of the actual physical care and custody of a child.
Judgment: a formal decision or determination on a matter or case by a court.
Jurisdiction: the power, right, or authority to interpret, apply, and declare the law (as by rendering a decision).
Legal Custody: the right to make important decisions about the raising of your child on issues such as health care, religious upbringing, education, etc.
Legal Separation: a separation of spouses which does not involve a dissolution of the marriage but in which certain arrangements (as for maintenance and custody) are ordered by the court.
Mediation: nonbinding intervention between parties.
Non-Custodial Parent: the parent who does not have physical custody of the child(ren)
Paternity: origin or descent from a father.
Petitioner: often, the person who initiates divorce or marriage dissolution proceedings, also called the plaintiff.
Physical Custody: custody that includes sharing a residence with a child.
Prenuptial Agreement: an agreement made before marrying in which they give up future rights to each other's property in the event of a divorce or death.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO): Pronounced "kwah-dro," an order issued by the court to divide retirement benefits.
Respondent: one who answers or defends in various proceedings.
Restraining Order: an order of a specified duration issued after a hearing attended by all parties that is intended to protect one individual from violence, abuse, harassment, or stalking by another.
Settlement Conference: a meeting at which the parties and their lawyers attempt to settle the case before trial, often ordered by the court.
Sole Custody: custody of a child awarded to only one person and usually to a parent.
Stipulation: an agreement between parties regarding some aspect of a legal proceeding (i.e. child custody stipulation, etc.).
Temporary Custody: custody awarded until a final judgment in a matter (as a divorce) is made.
Visitation: access to a child granted especially to a parent who does not have custody.