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Look at Our Estate Planning Glossary: A convenient way to start

Look at Our Estate Planning Glossary: A convenient way to start


Jennifer Mcgee


Updated on  

January 3, 2023

15 Mins


Terms to enhance your understanding of estate planning

Making an estate plan stands as one of the most crucial things you can do to safeguard your loved ones. Yet, the process of estate planning may seem tricky and complicated. 

Gain knowledge of the terminology with our estate planning dictionary and make the process simpler and more understandable. 


An administrator is an individual assigned by the court during probate to administer the estate of the person who has died without a Will. The responsibility of an administrator includes handling the financial matters of the deceased person such as repaying debts, settling outstanding expenses, and distributing assets to beneficiaries as per the Will, or state laws (in case of no Will). 

The state appoints an administrator if the decedent has died without a Will and there is no executor or if the executor is unable to take responsibility. There are different criteria for various states to choose an administrator. 


A person who gets the power of attorney through a legal document, to act in the best interests on behalf of another person, typically in financial and legal matters.

An Attorney-in-fact is accountable for making financial and investment decisions for the principal (person who gives the power to act). He is also termed as an 'agent' and doesn't need to be a lawyer. Your family or close friends can also be an agent. 

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“Should have done this before, had made it up to be really hard in my head. This was super easy!”

Asset Protection

Asset Planning involves legal techniques that are carried by asset holders to protect their wealth from the creditor's claim. 

These strategies are done by individuals and business organisations to avoid tax evasion and seizure of their property. It helps to insulate assets legally and gain additional security over one's assets. You must do asset protection before a claim or liability arises, or it will be too late. 

The main purpose is similar to that of bankruptcy. If a debtor has few or no assets, bankruptcy is an option. However, in the case of some or enormous assets, asset protection is advised.

Asset protection trusts are the most common way for protecting assets. Your assets get transferred under the surveillance of a trustee who becomes responsible for administering them. 

Joint ownership of an estate by tenants also protects against seizing of property and secures it. However, protection of estate through its joint ownership depends upon the state and local laws which may vary. 


A beneficiary is any person named as the receiver of property or other assets in a Will, trust, or any other legal document. 

Specifically, in wills or trusts, a beneficiary is the person to whom you want to distribute your estate or share a part of your assets to inherit after your death. In absence of estate planning, when a person dies without a Will or trust, beneficiaries are selected by the court according to the state laws. These laws vary in every state. 

Business Succession Planning

It is a process of deciding who'll manage your business in case of your death, retirement, illness, or incapacity. 

This type of succession planning is usually done by small or large family businesses where there are higher chances of disputes if the decision is not taken. 

It is better if you decide your business successor if you have retired or are almost retired. This ensures your business will continue to run smoothly in every aspect and have little impact on your finances. 


A codicil acts as a supplementary document to the Will. It serves to either amend, add, or remove provisions made in the Last Will without re-writing the entire Will. 

Codicils are often very helpful, yet, since they have the power to amend an entire Will, they need to meet the same state law requirements of Wills. It should be signed in the presence of two witnesses. You will find different laws in every state.


The term is used for a person who has died. An agent and trustee are obliged to fulfill the decedent's wishes as per their Will and/or trust. 

Durable Power on Attorney

A durable power of attorney is a power of attorney that is executed and used if the principal is unable to make decisions on his own by reason of incapacity. The decisions may be related to financial or legal matters.

Estate Planning

Estate Planning refers to the process of planning and executing Wills, trusts, or other legal documents to declare one's wishes regarding the management of their assets upon death or incapacity. In simple words, it is a dynamic process of anticipating the distribution of a person’s belongings after the death of the person.

Most people prepare their estate planning to safeguard their loved ones, especially children. It mainly involves making Wills and trusts and declaring their wishes of estate inheritance and guardianship of the minors upon their death. 

Executor/ Personal Representative/ Administrator

An executor is responsible for administering an estate plan and fulfilling the desires of the deceased person as per their Will. He/She is mentioned in the Will of the decedent and is usually a close friend or a family member. 

He/She does the same task as that of an administrator (without a will) and is also known as a personal representative. 


Guardian is a person appointed legally to look after the minor if the parent dies or becomes incapacitated. In case a financial guardian is not particularly appointed, then the same person becomes responsible for the property of the minor and is known as a Conservator in some states. 

Guardianship is generally decided in probate courts as per the laws of the state. 

Healthcare Surrogate

A healthcare surrogate is a medical power of attorney responsible for making healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to.

Generally, any person of at least 18 years of age with desired maturity level can be your healthcare surrogate. Every state has different laws for the requirements of a healthcare surrogate.


Heir is someone who acquires the property after the death of a person (called “decedent”). When a person dies intestate, i.e. without any, state law dictates how an estate is passed down, and which heirs are entitled to assets. 

It is very important to educate your heirs about your estate planning and make them aware of the strategies you have adopted. They might get confused and feel burdened while handling sudden wealth after your death.

HIPAA Authorization

The full form of HIPAA is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, enacted in 1996. HIPAA Authorization is a document that refers to the permission of an individual to allow an organization to disclose protected health information under specific circumstances despite HIPAA's privacy policy. The authorization contains some representatives' who are permitted to access preserved information.

The act concerns storing and protecting the medical reports of an individual. Yet, with the Authorization, some representatives are allowed to get the medical records.

Inheritance Planning

Inheritance Planning is the process of deciding who will inherit your property after you die. This procedure is a part of the estate planning process. Under it, you decide beneficiaries for your assets. You can have either one or multiple beneficiaries as per your wish. 

This is a crucial step in estate planning. It ensures that your wishes are honored after your death. 

In absence of inheritance planning, the court makes this decision for you which may result in your property landing in the wrong hands. Furthermore, it will consume more time and money and can lead to family disputes as well. 


A situation where a person passes away leaving no valid Will. In such cases, the probate court carries out the procedure by appointing an administrator or personal representative for the distribution of assets according to the default state laws. 

Irrevocable Vs Revocable Trust

An irrevocable trust is a kind of trust that can't be ceased or altered later. This kind of trust gives the advantage of a tax-shelter.

On the other hand, a revocable trust is flexible and allows you to make changes anytime. You can terminate a revocable trust whenever you wish and it is also easy to set up . 

Joint Tenancy

A joint tenancy is the joint ownership of a property by two or more persons. Generally, each of them shares equal interest and share of property along with the right of survivor ship which means that if a person dies, the right to own property transfers to the one who survives. 

For example, two brothers inherit a property together and each own half of the property. If one of the brothers dies in an accident, the other brother now owns the entire property.

Last Will and Testament

It is a legal document declaring one's wishes concerning the distribution of assets and management of minors after death. In case one dies intestate, i.e., without a Will, then the court will decide who will inherit your estate or look after your children. However, the Last Will and Testament allows you to decide who will receive your assets after death. 

Living Trust

A living trust, also named as revocable trust is a document where you place your assets into a private trust which is fully controlled by you. During your lifetime, all the income earned by the trust will be yours  and are transferred to the beneficiaries of the trust upon your death. 

Living Will

A Living Will is a written document that allows a patient to give specific instructions about medical treatment to be administered when they are terminally ill or permanently unconscious; can also be called an Advance Healthcare Directive(AHCD).

The life of a terminally ill or permanently unconscious person can be prolonged. For many people, the decision of whether to prolong life is being made in the form of a living will. The living will is a  type of advance directive that can be used before incapacitation to outline a full range of treatment preferences or, more frequently, to reject treatment.

A person can also appoint a healthcare surrogate and mention it in the living will. This will come into effect when a person becomes incapacitated. 

Long-term care planning

Long-term care planning refers to the planning of services and assistance for personal or health care needs for the long term. It includes care for older people due to illness or incapacity. 

This plan involves how you want to be cared for, who you will want to be your caretaker - a family member or healthcare facility, which type of care you desire and when. 

Usually, without a plan, care taking is done at home by family members, but this leaves a financial burden on those members and affects their lives. Planning doesn't only help to make a better plan for yourself but also includes how you can finance such care taking costs and even provide members with these costs so that it doesn't burden their pockets. 

You must also note that it is different from long-term care insurance which only covers costs. However, long-term care planning is wider than insurance. It covers every aspect of your long-term care, from who to how. 

Pour-Over Will

A Pour Over Will is a Will of a person who has already executed a trust in which all their property is to be distributed or managed upon their death in trust, leaving all property to the trust. A pour over Will offers protection which is intended to ensure that any assets that may not be not included in the trust become assets of the trust upon their death.

A pour over Will generally  provides that if any part of the trust is invalid, the distribution under the Will must be made under the same terms stated in the invalid trust.


Probate is a judicial process whereby a Will of a person is proved and accepted as a  valid Will. When a person dies, his or her estate generally must go through probate, which is a process overseen by a probate court. If the decedent leaves a will directing how his or her property should be distributed after death, the probate court will determine if it is valid and should be admitted to probate and given legal effect.

If the decedent dies without leaving a will the court appoints a Personal Representative to distribute the decedent's property according to the laws of Distribution in that state.

State Tax Planning

It includes a procedure of examining a financial situation or a plan in a way that payment of taxes becomes lowest. 

It considers timing of income and purchases, size and planning expenditures. 

With the help of tax planning, you can save money and direct it into some investment plans.  


A Trust is a relationship created at the direction of a person, specifying one or more persons to hold the individual's property subject to certain duties to use and protect it for the benefit of others. You can create a trust online easily.

The trustee is responsible for handling the trust considering the best interests of the beneficiaries. Trusts give you complete ownership of your assets and may help avoid the probate process. 


A Testator is an individual who makes a Will or testament effective upon their death. The testator must be of sound mind. It is ensured through signing the Will in front of witnesses. 

For a valid Will, free consent of the testator is mandatory.


A person or organisation holding a position of trust or responsible for taking care of the property on behalf of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. The trustee must make decisions of trust in favor of the beneficiary. 


A Will is the legal document that permits a person, the testator, to make decisions on how their estate will be managed and distributed after their death. You can make an online Will yourself with the assistance of various Will preparing websites.

The terms listed above will cover most of the glossary you shall know regarding estate planning.

Note that every state has different definitions for these terms as per their state laws. These definitions can change at times and you should check with your attorney or state laws for more information. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Estate Planning?

It is a dynamic process of anticipating the distribution of a person’s belongings after the death of the person. Planning for managing your estate, keeping in view your own demise, might be stressful and challenging. But you should be prepared for the inevitable circumstances.

Who needs an Estate Plan?

Every person who has some tangible or intangible assets needs an estate plan if he wants them to be acquired by his/her loved ones after his death. It doesn't matter whether your net worth is $5000 or $1M.

What are the five most important estate planning documents?

The five most important estate planning documents are: -Last Will and Testament -Financial Power of Attorney -Living Will -Living Trust -Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Why is estate planning important?

Estate Planning is essential to dispose of your property as per your wish and to avoid any legal and financial grief to your loved ones.

What is the difference between Will and Living Will?

Will is a legal document by which a person transfers his/her property as per his wish, which comes into effect after the death of the person. On the other hand, Living Will helps you determine what decisions should be taken with respect to your medical health.
Jennifer Mcgee
Parent to five young children. Expert in Estate Planning, Probate, and Family Law Matters. Volunteer with Victim’s Advocates in the local sheriff's department...
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Jennifer Mcgree
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