Estate Planning Glossary of Terms

Last Will & Testament

A written document which leaves the estate of the person who signed the will to named persons or entities (beneficiaries, legatees, devisees) including portions or percentages of the estate, specific gifts, creation of trusts for management and future distribution of all or a portion of the estate (a testamentary trust). A will usually names an executor (and possibly substitute executors) to manage the estate, states the authority and obligations of the executor in the management and distribution of the estate, sometimes gives funeral and/or burial instructions, nominates guardians of minor children and spells out other terms. To be valid the will must be signed by the person who made it (testator), be dated (but an incorrect date will not invalidate the will) and witnessed by two people (except in Vermont which requires three). In some states the witnesses must be disinterested, or in some states, a gift to a witness is void, but the will is valid. A will totally in the handwriting of the testator, signed and dated (a "holographic will") but without witnesses, is valid in many, but not all, states. If the will (also called a Last Will & Testament) is still in force at the time of the death of the testator (will writer), and there is a substantial estate and/or real estate, then the will must be probated (approved by the court, managed and distributed by the executor under court supervision). If there is no executor named or the executor is dead or unable or unwilling to serve, an administrator ("with will annexed") will be appointed by the court. A written amendment or addition to a will is called a "codicil" and must be signed, dated and witnessed just as is a will, and must refer to the original will it amends. If there is no estate, including the situation in which the assets have all been placed in a trust, then the will need not be probated.

Simply speaking a Will gives you full control over such issues as who gets your property, who will be the guardian of your children, who will manage your estate upon your death, who will inherit assets that you haven't left to anyone else and other issues relating to the management and distribution of your estate. The importance of a Will cannot be understated. A Will is perhaps the most important legal document the average person will ever possess. Yet, over 70% of American adults do not have one. Are you one of them?

Did you know that if you die without a Will the state you live in decides how your property is distributed? Often, the surviving spouse will get half the estate and any children will inherit the other half, which may or may not be how you want your property distributed. Also, if a person dies without a Will and without any trace of any heirs, all property will escheat (be turned over) to the state. These are just a couple of reasons why it's definitely in your best interest to take the time to create a Will.

BENEFICIARY
Codicil
Living Will
Power of Attorney
AGENT
Power of Attorney for Healthcare
Revocable Living Trust
Pour Over Will
Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
Live Support