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FAQ: Probate & Estate Administration

Glossary

Administrator. A person appointed by the court who manages your estate if you die without a will. Also, a person appointed by the court if the personal representative(s) named in your will fails or ceases to carry out his/her duties.

Attorney-in-fact. An individual designated in a power of attorney to act as the agent of the person who executed the document.

Beneficiary. A person who receives benefits, funds, or personal property from a will, contract, or insurance policy.

Decedent. A person who has died.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finance. A written document in which an individual designates another person to make financial decisions in the event that the individual becomes incapacitated. Each state has separate statutory definitions and requirements regarding Durable Powers of Attorney for Finance.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. A written document in which an individual designates another person to make health care and health-related decisions in the event that the individual becomes incapacitated. Each state has separate statutory definitions and requirements regarding Durable Powers of Attorney for Healthcare.

Durable Power of Attorney for Property. A written document in which an individual designates another person to make his or her property and property-related decisions in the event that the individual becomes incapacitated and is unable to do so. Each state has separate statutory definitions and requirements regarding Durable Powers of Attorney for Property.

Estate. An individual's property and assets.

Estate tax. A tax that is imposed at one's death and upon the transfers of some types of property.

Executor. A person named in a will who is authorized to manage your estate when you die. The executor collects and distributes your property and pays off any debts according to the terms of your will. (See Personal Representative)

Fiduciary. A person, corporation, or association that is legally responsible for the management, investment, and distribution of funds of another. (See Trustee)

Grantor. The person who transfers assets to another, usually into a trust.

Gross estate. The total value of property and assets that an individual has before any fees or expenses are deducted.

Guardian. A person, corporation, or agency with the legal authority (or court ordered responsibility) to care for another.

Incapacity. The lack of ability to act on your own behalf. A court makes a finding of incapacity.

Inter vivos trust. A trust that is created during a person's lifetime that holds property for the benefit of another.

Intestate. This is a term used to refer to a person who dies without a will.

Joint tenancy with right of survivorship. A title that is often placed on co-owned property. At the death of one owner, the other owner will be legally entitled to sole possession of the property, regardless of what provisions are made in a will. A husband and wife often use this form of ownership.

Living trust. A revocable trust established during a grantor's lifetime to provide for the placement of some or all of the grantor's property during his/her lifetime and how such property should be distributed upon death.

Living will. A binding legal document that declares what your wishes are regarding the use of life-sustaining treatment if you should become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Each state has separate statutory definitions and requirements regarding living wills.

Marital deduction. A federal tax deduction that may allow one spouse to pass his or her estate to the other spouse without having to pay estate or gift taxes.

Personal Representative. Person named in a will to manage your estate after you die. Often referred to as the Executor/Executrix.

Power of appointment. A right given to another in a written instrument, such as a trust, that allows the other to decide how to distribute your property. A "general" power of appointment places no restrictions on the other. A "limited" or "special" power of appointment places restrictions on who may receive distributions.

Power of Attorney. A written document that allows one person to act on behalf of another. Each state has separate statutory definitions and requirements regarding Powers of Attorney.

Probate. A process whereby a court reviews your will to make sure that it is authentic and where an executor or administrator distributes and manages a decedent's property.

State death or inheritance taxes. A tax on the privilege to acquire property through inheritance; tax is paid by the recipient of the property.

Trust. A written document providing that your property be held by one (the "trustee") for the benefit of another (the "beneficiary"). A trust may be created during your lifetime or after your death.

Trustee. A person named in a trust document who will manage the property owned by the trust and who will distribute the trust income or property according to the terms of the trust document. A trustee may be an individual or an organization.

Will. A document that directs how your property is distributed upon your death. Each state has separate requirements regarding how wills are to be drafted and executed.

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