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Legal Terms Glossary


The person designated by the court to manage and distribute a probate estate when there isn't a will. If there is a will, the person so designated is called the executor (male), executrix (female), or personal representative.


A sworn, written statement executed under oath in front of a witness or witnesses.

Asset Protection

Protecting your property from legal problems and taxes during your life and after your death.


The person(s) or organization(s) who receive(s) the benefits of trust property held under the terms of a trust.


An old legal term meaning to give a gift or leave property under the terms of a will.


An insurance policy used to ensure a legal representative will do his job and not misuse or steal funds he is controlling. The bond guarantees that a certain amount of money will be paid if a party is injured due to acts of the legal representative.

Charitable Remainder Trust

A trust used to make large donations of property or money to a charity so the person making the gift or donation can obtain a tax advantage. In a charitable remainder trust, the donor reserves the right to use the trust property during his life or some other specified time period, and when the agreed period is over the property goes to the charity.


A written change or amendment to a will.


A person appointed to be legally responsible for the management of property and money belonging to a minor or incompetent person. The conservator may act as the guardian or the guardian may be a separate person and the conservator will just work with the guardian.


A court controlled program where a conservator is appointed by the court to manage the monetary affairs of a person(s) who is unable to manage his/her own affairs.


An agreement between two or more parties. It may be oral, but generally it is written.


A person or institution to whom money is owed.


The person who has died.

Death taxes

Taxes levied on the property of a deceased person. Federal death taxes are usually referred to as estate taxes. Local and state death taxes are often referred to as inheritance taxes, or simply death taxes.


A written document used to evidence ownership and/or transfer title to real estate.


A person who owes money.


A legal term referring to real estate which passes through a will.


The refusal of a beneficiary to accept property willed to him. When a disclaimer is made, the property is generally transferred to the person next in line under the will. A disclaimer is also called a renunciation.


The parting with or giving away of property.


Cutting a person off from his or her inheritance in an estate where he or she would have been a natural heir.


The state or county which is the primary residence of a person.


A person who receives a gift.


A person who makes a gift.

Durable Power of Attorney

A document established by an individual (the principal) granting another person (the agent) the right and authority to handle the financial and other affairs of the principal. The Durable Power of Attorney survives through the period of incompetency of the principal.


The aggregate of all assets and debts held (owned) by an individual during his or her life or at the time of his or her death.

Executor/ Executrix

The person (male/female) named in a will to manage a decedent's estate. The more modern term is a "personal representative," which removes any reference to the sex of the person.

Family Trust

Another name for a living trust.


A person with the legal duty to act primarily for another's benefit in a position of trust, good faith, candor and responsibility. "Fiduciary" is often used as an alternative term for "trustee."

Fiduciary Duty

The duty of a fiduciary to act in a position of trust, good faith, candor and responsibility, on behalf of another. The duty is one of the best defined responsibilities under the law and is very strictly enforced by the courts.


The use of deception for unlawful gain.

General Power of Attorney

A legal document that, when properly executed, gives one person (the agent) full legal authority to act on behalf of another (the principal). The scope of the document can be as broad or narrow as you desire as defined in the document. A general power of attorney becomes invalid when the principal dies or becomes incompetent.


A transfer of property without receiving some benefit in return. The person making the transfer cannot be obligated in any way to make the transfer.


The person who establishes a trust and transfers assets into it. Other terms for the "grantor" include "trustor" and "settlor."

Grantor Trust

A trust in which the person establishing the trust retains enough "ownership rights" or "incidents of ownership" that the person is treated by the IRS as the owner of the trust assets for tax purposes. The right to revoke the trust is sufficient to make the trust a grantor trust.


A party who guarantees repayment of a loan, using their own assets if necessary.


A person designated by court appointment and given the responsibility of managing the personal affairs of a minor child or a person that is legally incompetent to manage his or her own affairs.


A person who, by law, inherits property from a deceased relative who didn't leave any type of will or trust which distributes his or her property after death. The term is more "loosely" used to refer to a person who receives property from a decedent through any means.


A person who is legally incapable of managing his or her own business affairs. A person may be permanently or temporarily incapacitated. A probate court usually decides if a person is incapacitated or not. "Incapacitated" is often used interchangeably with "incompetent."


A person who is legally incapable of managing his or her own business affairs. A person may be permanently or temporarily incompetent. A probate court usually decides if a person is incompetent or not. "Incompetent" is often used interchangeably with "incapacitated."


To take or receive property by legal right from a deceased person.

Inter Vivos Revocable Trust

One name for a living trust. "Inter vivos" is Latin for "between the living."


To die without a will or other valid estate transfer devise.

Intestate Succession

The order of persons entitled to received property distributed by a state court when the deceased failed to write a will or trust, or the will or trust has failed to legally distribute the deceased person's property.

Irrevocable Trust

A trust that cannot be changed, canceled, or "revoked" once it is set up. A "living trust" is not an example of an irrevocable trust. Insurance trusts and "Children's Trusts," or "2503 Trusts," are examples of irrevocable trusts. Irrevocable trusts are treated by the IRS very differently than revocable trusts.


A legal term used in wills and trusts meaning one's children, grandchildren, etc., either through birth or adoption.

Joint Ownership

The situation where two or more people own the same piece of property together. The property can be "owned" by the people as joint tenants, tenants in common, tenants by the entirety and other legally defined relationships.

Joint Tenancy

When two or more people take title to the same property and simultaneously each owns 100% of the property, or has full rights to the property. At the death of one joint tenant, his or her share immediately transfers to the ownership of the survivor(s).


The location where a person has access to the court system. The place where a person lives usually determines which court has the legal right to adjudicate his or her claims, probate proceedings, or other matters. The location of real property can also determine the "jurisdiction" of legal matters related to that property.

Letters Testamentary

A formal court order (document) issued by a probate judge giving the personal representative authority to conduct business, contract, sell estate property, pay bills, distribute estate property, and otherwise act on behalf of the estate.

Life Estate

The right to have all of the benefit from a property during one's lifetime. The person with the right doesn't own the property, and when he or she dies, the property is not included in his or her estate.

Revocable Living Trust

See Living Trust

Living Trust

A type of revocable trust used in estate planning to avoid probate, help in situations of incompetency, and allow "smooth" management of assets after the death of the grantor or person who established the trust. The trust can be effective in eliminating or reducing estate taxes for married couples. Revocable Living trusts are established during the life of the grantor, who retains the right to the income and principal and the right to amend or revoke the trust. When the grantor dies, the trust becomes irrevocable and acts as a substitute for a traditional will.

Living Will

A document defining your "right to die." It usually states that you do not want to have your life artificially prolonged by modern medical technologies. You can specifically define the means which you do not want used or do want used.


A child who is not old enough to have the legal capacity to govern his or her own affairs. Depending upon the specific state and the specific laws being applied, a minor is usually either under 21 years old or 18 years old.


The legally prescribed process of making someone aware of a legal proceeding or matter.


The affirmation of an agent (the notary) of the state affirming that the signature on the document being "notarized" is in fact the signature of the person purportedly signing the document.


A person who has state granted authority to certify the validity or authenticity of the signature being made on a document.

Per Stirpes

The most common way of distributing an estate such that if one of the children is dead, his or her children share equally in his or her share. Also know as By Right of Representation.

Personal Property

Property other than real estate (land and permanent structures on the land). Cars, furniture, securities, bank accounts, and animals are examples of personal property.

Personal Representative

The "modern" term for the executor or executrix, who is the court appointed individual that probates the will and carries out the will's instructions under court supervision.

POD Account

A bank account that is designed to avoid probate. It is a contract between the bank and the account holder guaranteeing that, upon the account holder's death, the bank will pay the balance of the account to whomever is designated to receive the account.

Pour-over Trust

A trust designed to receive property that is "poured over" into it. The property is usually "poured over" or received from a pourover will through the probate process.

Pour-over Will

A will which contains a clause that transfers some or all of the assets that pass through the will into a trust for final distribution from the trust. The will's assets are said to "pour over" into the trust.

Power of Appointment

The power given to a person, by appointment in a will or a trust, to distribute the property that passes through the will or trust at the discretion of the person appointed. Other than to give the appointed person the authority to make the distribution, the will or trust doesn't make distribution of the property.

Power of Attorney

A document established by an individual (the principal) granting another person (the agent) the right and authority to handle the financial affairs for the principal. A power of attorney becomes invalid at the death or incompetency of the principal, unless the power of attorney is a "durable power of attorney" which remains in effect after the principal becomes incompetent.

Primary Beneficiary

The person or persons for whose benefit a trust is originally established. When conditions change and the primary beneficiaries are no longer in a position to receive the benefit of the trust, the benefit goes to the "secondary beneficiaries."


The legal process which facilitates the transfer of a deceased person's property whether they leave a will or don't leave any will. The court establishes the authenticity of the will (if any), appoints a personal representative or administrator, identifies heirs and creditors, directs payment of debts and taxes, and oversees distributions of the assets according to the will or state law in the absence of a will.

Probate Court

The part of the judicial system dedicated to handling probate matters which includes settlement of intestate and testate estates, adoptions, appointment of guardians, name changes, and other matters.

Probate Estate

A deceased person's property which is subject to the probate process. Property held in a living trust is usually not considered part of the probate estate.

Probate Fees

The fees, often a percentage of the estate, paid to the attorney and others who handle the probate proceeding.

Proving a Will

The process of establishing the validity of a will before the probate court. (See Self Proving Will)

QTIP Trust

A Qualified Terminable Interest Trust (Q-Tip) is a type of trust which provides an unlimited marital deduction for qualified property put into the trust. However, rather than permitting the surviving spouse to have full power to distribute the property to anyone he or she wishes, the trust restricts the ability of the surviving spouse to distribute the property in the trust to a select group of individuals, such as the children, as agreed when both spouses were alive. Without the new QTIP laws, any attempt to "tie down" the property and restrict the surviving spouse's rights to transfer the trust property would have resulted in the property not qualifying for the marital deduction tax benefit.

Quitclaim Deed

A document (a deed) that transfers a person's interest in a piece of real estate, without the warranties or guarantees that are made in a warranty deed.

Revocable Trust

A trust which can be amended or revoked by the person(s) who established the trust.

Real Property

Land and attachments to the land, such as buildings, fences, etc.

Self Proving Will

A will which has been properly witnessed (by either two or three witnesses depending on state laws) and the witnesses have signed an affidavit before a notary public stating that all of the proper formalities of the will's execution have been complied with. This usually makes it very easy for the court to "prove" the will.


A person who establishes a trust. The term settlor is used interchangeably with the terms "trustor" and "grantor."

Simple Trust

Trusts that are established with terms that require the trust to "pay" all of its income out, so that it does not accumulate income on which income taxes would have to be paid.

Successor Trustee

The trustee who takes over when the initial trustee can no longer function.

Surviving Spouse

The husband or wife that lives after the death of his or her spouse.

Tenants by the Entirety

A way of owning property which, for almost all practical purposes, is the same as joint tenants. Tenancies by the entirety are creations of state law and are used only between husbands and wives, whereas joint tenancies can be used by anyone, not just by husbands and wives, who wants to own property jointly.

Tenants in Common

A way of owning property in which two or more owners all "share" ownership of the property. The owners can own various percentages of the whole property, unlike joint tenants which each own an equal share. When one owner dies, his or her share does not "automatically" go to the other owner(s), because tenancies in common do not have a survivorship provision like joint tenancies.

Testamentary Trust

A trust created by a will.


One who dies leaving a will.


Document proving ownership of property.


A legal document in which property is held and managed by a trustee for the benefit of another known as a beneficiary. A trust is a relationship in which property is held by one person for the benefit of another. The trust can be created verbally, but will most often be in writing.


The person or institution that manages the trust property under the terms of the trust.


A person who establishes a trust. The term trustor is used interchangeably with the terms "settlor" and "grantor."

Uniform Gift to Minors Act

A series of state statutes that provides a method for transferring property by gift to minors who cannot legally manage the property for themselves. The laws allow an adult to manage the property and yet not have it owned by the adult.

Uniform Probate Code

A standardized code designed by the American Law Institute to streamline the probate process. Many states have not adopted the code as part of their laws.

Warranty Deed

A deed which warrants that certain contracts will "run" (continue) with your property.


A legal document stating the intentions of a deceased person concerning the distribution of his or her property, and management of his or her affairs following his or her death. State law dictates the legality of a will.


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