Useful Estate Planning Terminology

The estate planning process can be difficult to grasp. To make matters worse, an attorney may use many foreign terms when discussing an estate plan with a client. The following terms and phrases, while commonplace for estate planning lawyers, should be understood by anyone involved in or considering the estate planning process:

Testator– living individual who has retained an attorney to prepare an estate plan
Decedent– dead individual whose estate is being administered
Devisee– individual designated in a will to receive probate property
Beneficiary-individual designated by a given asset’s terms to receive nonprobate property
Heir– any individual, including the surviving spouse and the state, who is entitled to receive a portion of decedent’s property under the laws of intestacy
Dependent– a minor child whom the decedent was obligated to support or an adult child who was in fact being supported by the decedent at the time of the decedent’s death.
Descendant (or “Issue”)- any individual related to decedent, at any generation level, by means of parent-child relationship
Creditor– individual or entity holding a claim/lien on the testator’s estate
Personal Representative– testator-selected individual responsible for administration of testator’s estate; typically a family member, attorney, or institution (e.g. bank)
Conservator -a court-appointed individual selected to oversee the affairs of an incapacitated person, manage financial affairs, or take care of personal matters
Trustee– individual selected, whether or not appointed or confirmed by a court, to oversee a trust’s terms are properly carried out
Fiduciary– includes a personal representative, guardian, conservator and trustee.
Interested person– includes any trustee, heir, devisee, child, spouse, creditor, beneficiary, and other person who has a property right in or claim against a trust estate or the estate of a decedent

Will– any testamentary instrument that merely appoints an executor, revokes or revises another will, nominates a guardian or expressly excludes or limits the right of an individual or class to succeed to property of the decedent passing by intestate succession
Trust– device for holding property in which ownership is divided between a trustee and a beneficiary; includes directions to the trustee regarding how he should manage and disburse the trust property to the beneficiary

Testate-situation where decedent has died with a valid, properly-executed last will and testament
Intestate– situation where decedent has died without a valid, properly-executed last will and testament; probate estate will pass to heirs under the laws of intestacy
Probate– process through which a will is validated by the Arizona Superior Court and the personal representative is appointed, gathers the assets of the decedent, pays the liabilities, and distributes the remaining assets in accordance with the provisions in the will
Claims-refers to the liabilities against the estate held by creditors
Community property- any property of a husband and wife that is acquired during the marriage (and qualifies under A.R.S. 25-211)

Photo by: greeblie