Important Estate Planning Terms

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedOct 20, 2020
2 minute read

Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan

Estate planning is an incredibly important tool for everyone – not just the wealthy or those considering retirement.

Estate planning can help you accomplish any number of goals:
  • appoint guardians for minor children
  • choose healthcare agents to make decisions for you should you become ill
  • minimize taxes so you can pass more of your hard-earned savings to your family members
  • state how and to whom you would like to pass on your estate when you pass away

While it should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list, it can be an overwhelming topic to dive into.

We’ve complied a list of estate planning terms we think you should be familiar with as you consider creating or revamping your estate plan.

Want to Know More about Estate Plans?

If you don’t have an estate plan, or you have had a major life event, such as divorce, set up some time to meet with one of our estate planning attorneys. They can help you create a plan that will best suit your individual needs.

Common Estate Planning Terms


Generally, anything a person owns, including a home and other real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, investments, furniture, jewelry, art, clothing, and collectibles.


A person or entity (such as a charity) that receives a beneficial interest in something, such as an estate, trust, account, or insurance policy.


A payment in cash or asset(s) to the beneficiary, individual, or entity who is entitled to receive it.


All assets and debts left by an individual at death.


A person with a legal obligation (duty) to act primarily for another person’s benefit, e.g., a trustee or agent under a power of attorney. “Fiduciary” implies great confidence and trust, and a high degree of good faith.


The process of transferring (re-titling) assets to a living trust. A living trust will only avoid probate at the trustmaker’s death if it is fully funded, meaning it contains all of the decedent’s assets.


Unable to manage one’s own affairs, either temporarily or permanently; often involves a lack of mental capacity.


The assets received from someone who has died.

Living probate

The court-supervised process of managing the assets of an incapacitated person. Conservatorship is another term used for this process.

Marital Deduction

A deduction on the federal estate tax return, it lets the first spouse to die leave an unlimited amount of assets to the surviving spouse free of estate taxes. However, if no other tax planning is used and the surviving spouse’s estate is more than the amount of the federal estate tax exemption in effect at the time of the surviving spouse’s death, estate taxes will be due at that time.

Settle an Estate

The process of winding down the final affairs (valuation of assets, payment of debts and taxes, distribution of assets to beneficiaries) after someone dies.


A fiduciary relationship in which one party, known as the trust-maker or settlor, gives another party, known as the trustee, the right to hold property or assets for the benefit of another party, the beneficiary. The trust should be memorialized by a written trust agreement, outlining how the trust assets will be distributed to the beneficiary.


A written document with instructions for disposing of assets after death. A will can only be enforced through a probate court. A will can also contain the nomination of guardian for minor children.

Let’s Review Your Estate Plan

If you want to develop your estate plan or need to revisit it, set up some time to meet with one of our estate planning attorneys.

We can make sure you have a comprehensive plan tailored to your unique needs and goals. Call 303-688-0944 to schedule a case assessment.

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