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Estate Planning Glossary


Anything that someone owns that has economic value. Examples include real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, stocks, life insurance, furniture, jewelry, antiques, art, an ownership interest in a business, and debts owed to him or her. When someone passes away, their assets are either "probate assets" or "non-probate assets."

Assets – Probate

Assets that are controlled by a Last Will and Testament. Generally, these assets are owned solely by the decedent. Examples include a house that only has the decedent's name on the deed, a bank account that is only titled in the name of the decedent and does not have a pay on beneficiary. Other examples of probate assets are any assets that do not have a title such as jewelry, art, and household goods.

Assets – Non-Probate

Assets that are controlled by joint ownership, a beneficiary designation or some other instrument such as a living trust and not a Last Will and Testament. Examples include a home that is owned jointly with rights of survivorship, a life insurance policy that names a specific person as the beneficiary, a bank account that is jointly owned or has another person named as a "pay on death beneficiary," and any asset that is owned by trust.


A person or entity that receives property through a Last Will and Testament or trust.


A gift made to a person or entity as part of a Last Will and Testament. A bequest can be "specific," such as a particular item or sum of money. Or it can be "general" as in giving someone a percentage of the estate.


A person that has passed away.


To intentionally not provide for someone in a Last Will and Testament who would otherwise, according to state law, had the right to receive some or all of the testator's property had he or she died without a will.


Anything of value, including money, real estate and personal property, at the time of a person's death.


The person responsible for administering an estate after another person's death. Also known as a personal representative or executrix.

Financial Power of Attorney

A document that allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions regarding your money, personal property, real property, and any other asset that you own. If the document states that it is “durable” this means that the financial power of attorney will remain in effect even if you lose your decision making abilities.


The person creating a power of attorney document and granting powers to an agent (the grantor is commonly known as the principal).

Healthcare Agent

The person that the principal gives the power to make medical decisions as designated in a Healthcare Power of Attorney.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A legal document that enables the grantor to designate an individual, known as the agent, to make healthcare decisions on their behalf.


The act of dying without a Last Will and Testament. Each state has statutes to determine which individuals inherit the probate estate when someone dies without a will. These statutes are commonly referred to as "intestate succession laws" and leave probate estate to next of kin.

Last Will and Testament

A legal document used to declare how probate assets are to be distributed at death and who should be in charge of carrying out that plan. It can also name who one would like to be the guardian of minor children and who you would like to manage any property that minor children receive.

Legal Guardian

The person legally responsible for raising minor children if the parents die or are otherwise unable or unwilling to care for them.

Legal Representative

The person named in the Last Will and Testament who has the responsibility for carrying out the wishes of the person who has passed away. The Legal Representative will collect all of the probate assets, pay debts as required by law, and transfer assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. The Legal Representative is also referred to as an Executor/Executrix, Personal Representative, and Administrator.

Living Will

A legal document that enables an individual to specify wishes regarding end of life medical treatment.

Notary Public Signature

The signature and seal of a notary public verifies the authenticity of the witness signatures. In order for a witness signature to be notarized, the witness must sign in the presence of the Notary Public.


The person who creates an advanced directive, such as a power of attorney, and gives authority to an agent to act on their behalf. The principal can also be referred to as a grantor.


After a person passes away, the legal process of collecting assets, paying debts, and transferring assets to the rightful beneficiaries, either by the terms of a Last Will and Testament or through intestate succession laws.

Probate Estate

All probate assets that the decedent owned at the time of his or her passing, less the debts that the decedent incurred that, by law, must be paid.


A person who is making or has completed a Last Will and Testament.


A person that observes the signing of a legal document, such as a Last Will and Testament or a Advance Directive (Living Will). The witness signature verifies that he or she saw the testator or principal sign the document, and that testator was of sound mind, of legal age, and not under any constraint or undue influence at the time of the signing.