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NC and SC Estate Planning and Elder Law Firm

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Lawyer To English Dictionary

It is easy for attorneys to forget that the specialized terms we toss around every day are not words that most people have ever heard before. At Monk Law, we go out of our way to ensure our clients fully understand all of the documents they are signing, and the terms in them. 

It is our duty to our clients to make sure that we communicate clearly, so below is a list of common estate planning terms and a plain English definition of them. It’s a good refresher if you need to look something up again after you have left our office, and can serve as a cheat-sheet if you are working with an attorney who could do better with their lawyer to English translation.

Administration — The process of handling the affairs of a deceased person's estate or a trust.

Administrator — The person who will manage the deceased person’s estate. The terms “personal representative” and “executor” may also be used.

Advance Directive — A document that provides directions to healthcare providers at the end of one’s life. It is sometimes called a living will.

Age of Majority — The age when someone becomes an adult in the eyes of the law. In both North and South Carolina, it is 18. 

Beneficiary — A person who benefits from a trust, or who receives something when someone else dies. 

Codicil — An amendment to a will that can be made without re-doing the entire estate plan. 

Domicile — Fancy word for one’s home or permanent residence. 

Donor/Donee — A donor is a person who gives a gift, and a donee is the recipient

Escheat — When someone dies with no known beneficiaries or heirs, and his or her property is given to the government. 

Executor — The person who will manage the deceased person’s estate. The terms “personal representative” and “administrator” may also be used.

Heir — Someone who inherits property from the estate of a deceased person who died without a will.

Intestacy/Intestate — Dying without a will.

Issue — Descendants and adopted descendants, so children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. 

Irrevocable Trust — A trust that cannot be amended or revoked after it is created. Many trusts become irrevocable after their creator dies. 

Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship — When property is co-owned, but will ultimately become solely-owned by the owner who lives the longest. 

Living Will — A document that provides directions to healthcare providers at the end of one’s life. It is sometimes called an advance directive. 

Personal Representative — The person who will manage the deceased person’s estate. The terms “administrator” and “executor” may also be used.

Per Stirpes — A common way to divide up assets at death. The pot of assets are divided equally among the deceased person’s children. If one of the deceased person’s children has already passed away, that child’s share is given to that child’s children. 

Power of Attorney — A written legal document that gives an individual the authority to act on behalf of someone else. Many people appoint a power of attorney for healthcare and a power of attorney for finances.  

Probate — The process of going to court to establish that a will is valid. If can also refer to the going-to-court-part of the estate administration process in general. 

Probate Estate — Assets that are subject to probate.

Property — Not just land, but everything you own. Even things like inventions or mutual funds, which you cannot physically hold in your hands but yet have value are considered property.

Real Property — This is another term for real estate. 

Revocable Living Trust — A trust that can be altered or destroyed by the person who created it. Contrast this with an irrevocable trust, whose terms cannot be changed after it is created. 

Tangible Personal Property — Property that you can touch or hold in your hands. 

Testamentary Trust — A trust that is part of a person's will.

Testate — Dying with a will. It is the opposite of intestate

Testator — A person who makes a will.

Trust — A pot of assets owned and managed for the benefit of a third party. There are typically three parties involved in the creation and use of a trust: the person who establishes the trust (sometimes called a donor, grantor, settlor, or trustor), a trustee, and one or more beneficiaries.

Trustee — A person or financial institution that is responsible for the administration of a trust. 

Will — A written document which disposes of one's property after death. It is also used to designate a guardian for minor children.

Did we miss anything? 

If there is a term you think we should add to this list, please let us know! 

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