Common Estate Planning Terms

Here’s a helpful list of typical estate planning terms, that you may hear when you meet with your lawyer for your planning. Naturally a good lawyer will use familiar terms and examples, so that you don’t go away confused by a obscure terminology. In fact, good estate planning lawyers have “unlearned” the way law students are expected to talk and write in law school, and speak in plain English.

Still, getting familiar with these legal terms can help you feel more comfortable when speaking with your lawyer about estate planning. You might even use this when you explain your planning to your family, so that they will feel better about knowing your wishes.

Attorney-in-Fact:
A person named by a Power of Attorney to act as an agent on behalf of another person. In your Power of Attorney document, you will name your Attorney-in-Fact, and alternates to act if your first choice can’t.

Beneficiary:
The person or entity that benefits from an estate or trust, or from an IRA, life insurance policy or annuity contract.

Decedent:
A person who died.

Donee:
A person or entity that receives a gift from someone else.

Donor:
A person or entity who gifts an asset. The Donor is the giver, and the Donee is the recipient.

Estate:
Assets in general. This might refer to a “probate estate,” which are all the assets owned by a decedent at death. Or it could refer to a “trust estate,” which are assets held by a trust before or after death. Or it could refer to a “taxable estate,” which is are all of the assets that the tax laws include on an estate tax return.

Executor:
A person appointed by Will to administer a decedent’s estate. A person who serves where there is no Will, would be called an “Administrator.” Sometimes the term “Personal Representative” is used to include both an Administrator and Executor.

Grantor:
A person who creates a trust, or conveys real estate to someone else. For example, you are the Grantor of your own Living Trust. (And, you are likely also a Beneficiary, and the initial Trustee of that Living Trust, too.)

Guardian of the Person:
A person or entity appointed by the court to supervise care of a minor or incompetent person’s physical well-being.

Guardian of the Estate:
A person or entity appointed by the court to handle a minor or incompetent person’s finances.

Irrevocable Trust:
A trust that the Grantor cannot revoke or change without court permission.

Living Trust:
A trust established during the Grantor’s lifetime.

Probate:
The court-supervised legal process for administering a decedent’s estate. Under this process, the Executor will gather a decedent’s assets, pay bills, report to the court, and ultimately distribute the remaining assets of the estate to the decedent’s beneficiaries.

Revocable Trust:
A trust that the Grantor can revoke or amend.

Testator (or Testatrix):
The person who creates a Will. A male is the Testator, and a female is the Testatrix.

Trust:
A legal arrangement created by a document (called a Trust Agreement), to name a trustee who holds assets for future distribution to a beneficiary or beneficiaries.

Trustee:
The person or entity that is in charge of a Trust, as named in the Trust Agreement. The Trustee will be responsible for investing and distributing the Trust assets according to the terms of the Trust Agreement.

Trustor:
Another name for a person who creates a trust. (Also sometimes called a “Grantor” or “Settlor.”)

Will:
A legal document stating a person’s wishes about who should be in charge of the Probate of the person’s Estate upon death, and who should receive asset remaining after all debts are paid. The only assets that a Will controls  are those that pass through the decedent’s Probate Estate; the Will does not control beneficiaries of IRAs, Life Insurance Policies, or Annuities.