Will Glossary

Administrator: A person appointed to carry out settlement of the estate, also known as a personal representative.

Ancillary Probate: Probate procedure used when the decedent had real property in another state.

Annual Exclusion: An amount that can be given to any individual or any number of individuals by gift tax free. The exclusion amount is usually higher when gifted between a husband and wife.

Annuity: The periodic payment of a definite sum of money, with such payments to continue for life or for a definite number of years.

Assets: All types of property which can be made available for the payment of debts including real and personal.

Attorney: a lawyer.

Beneficiary: A person or institution designated to receive a benefit by Will, from a Trust or insurance.

Closely-Held Business: where ownership in a business organization is held by a certain number of people (often with the same family rather than the general public).

Codicil: A document to supplement, amend or add to a Will. A codicil is required to be executed in accordance with the same formal requirements as a Will. A codicil can be made to explain, modify, add to, subtract from, qualify, alter or revoke parts of a Will.
Common Disaster Clause: A statement in a Will stating how property is to be distributed if devisees die from the same accident.
Conservator: A person appointed by a court to manage the estate or property of a protected person who is incapable of managing his or her own affairs because of age, intellect, or health.

Consideration: Something of value, such as money, real property, personal property or a promise given in exchange for another promise.

Corpus: The principal trust property, differentiated from interest or income.

Decedent: A deceased person.

Deed: A legal document used to transfer title to real property.

Devise (noun): property (real or personal) left to a beneficiary under a Will.

Devise (verb): to dispose of real or personal property by Will.

Devisee: A person designated in a Will to receive property (real or personal).

Domicile: A home or place of habitation where a person resides voluntarily and permanently (not for a temporary or special purpose).

Donee: Person who receives a gift.

Donor: Person who makes a gift.

Escheat: When property of a deceased passes to the state due to lack of heirs.

Estate Tax (Federal): Taxes assessed by the federal government upon a decedent’s right to transfer property at their death. It is levied on the entire gross estate before it is distributed to individual successors.

Exempt Property: Property not exceeding a certain amount in value in excess of any security interests in items such as household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances and personal effects to which a surviving spouse is entitled from the estate. This property is usually protected from creditors and devisee claims.

Family Allowance: An amount (periodic or lump sum) allowed by the court from the estate for the reasonable maintenance of a surviving spouse and minor and dependent children during the period of probate administration. The payment is usually fixed for a maximum period.

Fiduciary: A person appointed to a position of trust including personal representative, guardian, conservator and trustee.

Formal Probate Proceedings: Conducted before a judge with notice to interested persons for probate of a Will or appointment of a personal representative.

Gross Estate: (Federal estate tax) the total value of all property (real, personal, tangible, intangible) that a deceased owned or had control over at the time of death.

Guardian: A person legally appointed to take care of another who, because of age, intellect, or health, is incapable of managing his or her own affairs. The guardian manages the person. A conservator manages the property of that person. A person can be appointed both guardian and conservator.

Heirs: Persons who are entitled to a deceased’s estate under intestate succession laws.

Holographic Will: Recognized by some states as a valid Will. The execution requirements are more lax than normally required of Wills. Usually if the signature and material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator, no witnessing is required. Some states require the whole Will to be in the testator’s handwriting.

Homestead Allowance: An allowance provided to the spouse of a deceased who was resident in the relevant state at the time of death.

Informal Probate Proceedings: Conducted without notice to interested persons by the clerk of the court for probate of a Will or appointment of a personal representative.

Inherit: To take or receive property from a deceased person by succession or Will.

Inheritance tax: A tax assessed by some states on the amount received by an individual from a deceased estate.

Inter Vivos Trust: Legal name for a Living Trust (set up by the grantor during his/her lifetime).

Intestate: death of a person without a valid will.

Irrevocable Trust: One which cannot be altered, amended or terminated either entirely or in part. In some states, trusts are irrevocable unless the trust expressly reserves the power to revoke.

Joint Tenancy: Where two or more persons own property with right of survivorship from one another.

Life Estate: The right to use property only for a person’s lifetime.

Lineal Descendant: Persons who are, by blood relationship, in the direct line of descent from an ancestor. In many states, the term includes adopted children.

Pay on Death (POD): Designation of a beneficiary to receive an account balance on a party’s death.

Per Capita: For inheritance purposes, a term used to allocate equal shares.

Personal Representative: A person named in a Will or appointed by the appropriate court to administer a deceased estate. The term can be used to describe both an executor or administrator.

Personal Property: Property other than real property. For example: checking and savings accounts, automobiles, other vehicles, personal effects, livestock, machinery, bank deposits, stocks and bonds.

Power of Attorney: Legal document authorizing a person to conduct certain acts on behalf of another.

Pretermitted Child: A child born or adopted after the execution of a testator’s Will. Some states allow after-born children to inherit under certain circumstances.

Probate: The process of proving a Will in court, appointing a personal representative, gathering all estate property, paying debts and taxes and distributing the estate of a deceased in accordance with the Will or the laws of intestacy.

Real Property: Property consisting of land and all appurtenances attached to the land such as buildings, crops, minerals, royalty interests, growing timber and mineral rights.

Revocable: A trust in which the power to alter, amend or terminate the trust has been reserved by the maker.

Right of Election: A right of a surviving spouse to elect to take a specified share of the deceased’s estate whether in addition to or instead of taking under the Will or by intestate succession. The right varies depending on the state.

Right of Representation: When beneficiaries or heirs share an inheritance as successors to their parent’s share.

Spouse: A person’s married partner; a husband or wife.

Succession Law: determines how a persons’ estate is distributed if they pass away without a Will.

Tenancy in Common: where two or more persons own property without any right of survivorship from one another. When a tenant in common dies, his/her share of the property forms part of his/her estate and is distributed in accordance with the Will or succession law.

Testamentary: Relating to a Will.

Testamentary Trust: A trust set up under the terms of a Will.

Testator: Person making a Will.

Transfer on Death (TOD): A securities feature which allows the owner to designate a beneficiary to receive the security once the owner dies.

Trust: A fiduciary relationship in which one person, known as a “trustee”, holds title to property or assets for the benefit of another person, the beneficiary.

Trustee: The person who holds title to trust property for the benefit of the beneficiary. The trustee may be a corporate body.

Trustor: Person who gifts money or assets to make a trust; also known as a Grantor.

Will: A legal declaration expressing how a person wishes his/her property to be distributed after death; also known as a Last Will and Testament. Usually required to be in writing, however some states recognize Wills made orally.

Witness: A person who observes the testator’s signature on a Will and attests to the signature.

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