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April 29, 2024

21 Estate Planning Terms You Need to Know

Whether you’re making your first estate plan or need to update an existing one, it helps to speak the language. While most people are familiar with common terms like “trust” or “will,” the meanings of other estate planning terms may feel less clear. 

Keep this glossary of key terms handy to help you navigate the estate process with more confidence

  1. Administrator 

An individual or fiduciary appointed by a court to manage an estate if no executor or personal representative has been appointed or the appointee is unable or unwilling to serve.

  1. Ascertainable standard

This legal standard, typically relating to an individual’s health, education, maintenance, and support, is used to determine what distributions are permitted from a trust.

  1. Attorney-in-fact

The individual named under a power of attorney as the agent to handle the financial and/or health affairs of another person.

  1. Codicil 

A legally binding document that makes minor modifications to an existing will without requiring a complete rewrite of the document.

  1. Community property

A form of ownership in certain states in which property acquired during a marriage is presumed to be jointly owned regardless of who paid for it.

  1. Credit shelter trust

A type of trust established to bypass the surviving spouse’s estate to take full advantage of each spouse’s federal estate tax exemption. It’s also known as a bypass trust or A-B trust.

  1. Fiduciary

An individual or entity, such as an executor or trustee, who is designated to manage assets or funds for beneficiaries and is legally required to exercise an established standard of care.

  1. Grantor trust

A trust in which the grantor retains certain control so that it’s disregarded for income tax purposes and the trust’s assets are included in the grantor’s taxable estate.

  1. Inter vivos 

This is the legal phrase used to describe various actions (such as transfers to a trust) made by an individual during his or her lifetime.

  1. Intestacy

When a person dies without a legally valid will, a situation called “intestate,” the deceased’s estate is distributed in accordance with the applicable state’s intestacy laws.

  1. Joint tenancy

An ownership right in which two or more individuals (such as a married couple) own assets, often with rights of survivorship.

  1. No-contest clause

A provision in a will or trust that ensures that an individual who pursues a legal challenge to assets will forfeit his or her inheritance or interest.

  1. Pour-over will

A type of will that is used upon death to pass ownership of assets that weren’t transferred to a revocable trust.

  1. Power of appointment

The power granted to an individual under a trust that authorizes him or her to distribute assets on the termination of his or her interest in the trust or on certain other circumstances.

  1. Power of attorney (POA)

A legal document authorizing someone to act as attorney-in-fact for another person, relating to financial and/or health matters. A “durable” POA continues if the person is incapacitated.

  1. Probate

The legal process of settling an estate in which the validity of the will is proven, the deceased’s assets are identified and distributed, and debts and taxes are paid.

  1. Qualified disclaimer

The formal refusal by a beneficiary to accept an inheritance or gift or to allow the inheritance or gift to pass to the successor beneficiary.

  1. Qualified terminable interest property (QTIP)

Property in a trust or life estate that qualifies for the marital deduction because the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary during his or her lifetime. The assets of the QTIP trust are therefore included in the estate of the surviving spouse, that is, the spouse who is the beneficiary of the trust, not the estate of the spouse who created the trust.

  1. Spendthrift clause

A clause in a will or trust restricting the ability of a beneficiary (such as a child under a specified age) to transfer or distribute assets.

  1. Tenancy by the entirety

An ownership right between two spouses in which property automatically passes to the surviving spouse on the death of the first spouse.

  1. Tenancy in common

An ownership right in which each person possesses rights and ownership of an undivided interest in the property.

Questions? Smolin can help. 

This brief roundup isn’t an extensive list of estate planning terms. If you have questions about these terms or others that aren’t listed here, reach out to us! We’re happy to provide additional context for any estate planning concepts you need more clarity on.

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