Thirteen Estate Planning Terms You Need to Know

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Estate planning—it is an incredibly important tool, not just for the uber-wealthy or those thinking about retirement. On the contrary, estate planning is something every adult should do. Estate planning can help you accomplish any number of goals, including appointing guardians for minor children, choosing healthcare agents to make decisions for you should you become ill, minimizing taxes so you can pass more wealth onto your family members, and stating how and to whom you would like to pass your estate on to 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. To help you get situated, below are some important terms you should know as you think about your own estate plan.


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 an asset, estate, trust, or insurance policy.  There are various types of beneficiaries such as vested, contingent, and remote contingent.


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 grantor’s (the person funding the trust) death if it is fully funded, meaning it contains all of the decedent’s assets.  Funding may be different depending on the type of trust.


Unable to manage one’s own affairs, either temporarily or permanently; often involves a lack of mental capacity.  This medical determination has ramifications with respect to the estate planning documents that are in place.


The assets received from someone who has died.

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 provided that those assets are under the then current federal exemption amount. 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.


The court-supervised process of managing the assets and debts of a person who has passed away.  Probate can be in conjunction with a Will (A trust is not subject to Probate) or can administer an estate without a Will by way of intestate succession.

Settling 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.

Revocable Trust

A fiduciary relationship in which one party, known as the grantor 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.  Often times with an estate planning trust, the grantor, trustee, and the beneficiary are initially all the same person, so there are no asset protection qualities.


A written document completed in accordance with state requirements that contain 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 a guardian for minor children.

If you have any additional questions about estate planning or would like to consult an estate planning professional, please contact our offices. We can make sure you have a comprehensive plan that is tailored to your unique needs and goals. Reach us at 775 882 8032 or schedule your consultation with us through our website, just click here.