Estate planning law can be complex and complicated, often adding more stress to an already stressful situation. Reputable estate planning lawyers have extensive legal experience helping clients with all aspects of planning for the future. The following are some of the most common legal terms that many clients may need to be familiar with when deciding how they want their family taken care of when they are gone.
Estate Planning: The process of making arrangements for an individual’s assets and property in order to ensure the final distribution of their “estate” is done per their final wishes. Estate planning involves setting these wishes up in the most economical, effective, efficient way possible while addressing tax and estate laws.
Decedent: The individual who has died.
Last Will and Testament: This is the legal instrument that an individual will direct how their assets and property should be dispersed after they die.
Testator: The individual who makes a will. A female testator is sometimes referred to as a testatrix.
Executor: The person who is named in an individual’s will who is in charge of managing and dispersing the estate per the terms of the will. Unless there are valid objections, the court will appoint the person named. A female executor is sometimes referred to as an executrix.
Heir: The individual named in a will who will inherit the assets that the decedent instructed. If there is no will, the heirs will be identified according to the laws of the state the decedent lived in.
Probate: The legal process that an estate is required to go through before the assets can be dispersed. The probate court is the legal entity which oversees the process. Probate usually takes about one year to complete, during which any creditors can file claims with the estate. It is also during this process that anyone who objects to the terms of the will can contest it.
Administrator: When the decedent did not appoint an executor, or the executor is unable or unwilling to serve, then the court will appoint an administrator to manage the estate’s probate process.
Conservatorship: When an individual has become incapacitated, the court will appoint a conservator to oversee the financial management of the individual’s assets.
Guardianship: When a person is incapacitated, or is a minor, the courts will appoint a guardian who will be in charge of managing their personal affairs, such as nursing home or other living accommodations.
Power of Attorney: This is a legal instrument that names and authorizes an individual to act as an agent for another person’s affairs. There are different types of power of attorneys, including general, special, durable, and general durable. A probate attorney can help you determine which is appropriate in your particular case.
Intestate: When an individual dies without a will or trust in effect. In these situations, their assets and property will be dispersed according to the laws of the state the decedent lived in.
Estate Tax: The tax that is imposed by the federal government, as well as some states, on the assets and property which is bequeathed from the decedent to his or her beneficiaries and heirs. The tax owed is calculated based on the size of the total estate and not on the amounts received by the beneficiaries or heirs.
Contact a lawyer Washington D.C. residents trust if you have questions about legal issues or terminology.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C., for their insight into legal terminology.