Thirteen Estate Planning Terms You Need to Know | Jordan W. Jacob, Esq.

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Thirteen Estate Planning Terms You Need to Know

Written by Jordan W. Jacob, Esq.

October 20, 2020
Thirteen Estate Planning Terms

Estate planning—it is an incredibly important tool, and it is not just for the über wealthy or those thinking about retirement.

On the contrary, estate planning is something every adult over the age of 18 years 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 and there are probably many estate planning terms that you may not understand. To help you get situated, below are some important estate planning terms you should know as you think about your own 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 something, such as an estate, trust, account, or insurance policy.


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 guardian for minor children, a trustee of a trust, 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 trust. A trust will only avoid probate at the trust-maker’s death if it is fully funded, meaning it contains all of the decedent’s assets.  Otherwise, those assets may be subjected to probate (see below).


Unable to manage one’s own affairs, either temporarily or permanently; often involves a lack of mental capacity.


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. 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 estate after a person passes away. Probate courts make sure property and possessions are given to the correct people and any valid taxes or debts owed are paid in full. If there’s a written Will, the court checks that it was signed and witnessed correctly and is valid, and then makes sure the directions in the will are carried out. A personal representative (also called “executor”) is appointed to carry out the administration of the estate during probate.

Settle 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.


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.  Most often, the grantor and the trustee are the same person during their life, and then successor trustees are appointed to manage the trust and distribute trust assets to the grantor’s beneficiaries after the grantor passes away.

Will (also known as Last Will & Testament)

A written document with 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 guardian for minor children.

If you have any additional questions about the estate planning terms above or would like to consult an estate planning professional to get started on your plan, schedule a no-cost initial consultation with me today. I will make sure you have a comprehensive plan that is tailored to your unique needs and goals.

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