Estate Planning Terms Defined

Reading legal terms can often be like reading something in a foreign language. In fact, some legal terms actually are a foreign language! We define several terms that are used in estate planning that may help you translate these words to allow a better understanding of estate plans.

Administrator: An administrator is appointed by a probate court when there is no will to ‘settle’ an estate. Their tasks include paying debts, inventorying assets and distributing inheritances to the heirs. Administrator may be used interchangeably with the term executor, although an executor is usually named within a will, while an administrator is appointed by the probate court.

Beneficiary: A person or institution who inherits property by a will, trust, retirement account or life insurance policy.

Bequest: A bequest is often used to describe personal property that is left by a will.

Codicil: A codicil is used to supplement or make changes to a will.

Decedent: Someone who has died.

Escheat: The legal process in which property of a decedent passes to the state if no heirs are identified or located.

Grantor: The person creating a trust.

Inter vivos trust: Another term for a living trust.

Intestate: Dying without a will

Marital deduction: The exemption within federal estate tax laws for property passed to a surviving spouse.

Probate: The legal process which validates a will, if there is one, and administers an estate, such as paying bills, identifying heirs and transferring ownership of property that is inherited.

Residuary estate: Property that is not specifically left to a designated beneficiary.

Testator: A person making a will.

Trust: A legal arrangement in which a settlor or grantor, the person making the trust, transfers ownership of their assets into a trust in which a trustee then manages and controls the assets for the benefit of a third person, called a beneficiary.

Author Bio

Catherine Hammond is the CEO and founder of Hammond Law Group, a Colorado-based estate planning law firm she founded in 2005. With a strong focus on protecting families from the legal consequences of disability and death, she creates comprehensive estate plans that minimize taxes, costs, and government interference.

A native of Denver, Catherine completed her undergraduate studies at Coe College in Iowa, and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law in 1993, concentrating on estate planning, tax, and mediation. Catherine is a member of various professional organizations, including WealthCounsel, ElderCounsel, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Colorado Springs Estate Planning Council, and the Purposeful Planning Institute. Beyond her legal expertise, Catherine provides transformational coaching to support clients and their families through life transitions.

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