If you’ve ever sat around for hours in a hospital waiting room or perused your grandmother’s coffee table for reading material, you may remember the old Reader’s Digest staple, “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power.” It can in fact pay to increase your word power when it comes to learning about estate planning.
Basic estate planning can seem overwhelming, especially given the complex, unfamiliar and technical terms used by planning professionals. When you’re strategizing for the future, you need clear insight into your options, so you can make informed decisions. To that end, here’s a glossary that catalogues vocabulary related to the probate process:
Glossary of Key Probate Terms
- Agent. This is a person who acts on your behalf with regard to medical and financial decisions should you become unable to do so. An agent is one who has a durable power of attorney.
- Advanced Health Care Directive. This document names the agent who will act on your behalf if you can no longer do so. It also relays information such as life support decisions, resuscitation instructions, and other end stage questions. An advanced health care directive should be included in your medical record.
- Beneficiary. This is the person or group who receives any or all of the benefits of your estate. You name a beneficiary when you plan your will.
- Decedent. A person who has created a will or other testamentary device who has now died.
- Estate plan. An estate plan refers to all of the documents and decisions that go into what should happen to your property and to you should you die or become unable to handle your own financial or health decisions.
- Executor. The person you name to execute all conditions of your estate and terms of the will. This person will administer the estate. When you file a last will and testament, the probate court names the executor. Even with a named executor, the court has final say regarding who can be the executor.
- Fiduciary. This is the person named to be in charge someone else’s assets. He or she must administer the estate without regard to his or her own betterment.
- Living trust. This is a document, similar to a will, that dictates how you want your assets dispersed. A will, however, only becomes effective after death. With a living trust, your family can avoid the costly process of probate.
- Probate. A probate court enacts the probate process which will determine how and to whom your assets are distributed. All disputes regarding the will are resolved here, including questions of undue influence, forgery, proper identification of assets and beneficiaries, and so on. Probate can be costly and time-consuming, and there are numerous instruments a person can use to distribute assets outside of probate.
Trust an Experienced Probate Attorney in Pasadena
We’ve reviewed just a few of the terms attorneys use to help people plan their estates. There are many more complex legal issues that accompany estate planning, so have a trained and qualified attorney guide you. Whether you recently lost a parent, and you’re feeling your way through the process of administering the estate, or your family has been fighting about a nuanced point related to the estate’s finances, debts and decisions, call our experienced lawyers for insight and a free, confidential consultation.