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Topics in this column include the need for estate planning, what estate planning consists of, and what happens when there is no plan. Following are a few of the basic concepts and definitions:
Advance Health Care Directive - A written document in which one person (the principal) designates another person (the agent) to make medical decisions on the principal’s behalf when the principal is unable to make medical decisions for him or herself. The principal may also direct which decisions should be made in certain medical situations. This document was formerly known as a “Living Will.”
Beneficiary - A person for whose benefit an estate plan is created.
Conservator - A person who has been appointed by the Court to make health care and/or financial decisions for an incapacitated adult.
Conservatorship - A court proceeding to appoint a conservator to oversee the financial, personal, and physical needs of an incapacitated person.
Estate Taxes - The taxes imposed by the federal government on the transfer of assets at death.
Executor - (If female, “Executrix”) - The person or institution who is appointed in a will to take care of the funds and property after the death of the person making the will (also referred to as the “personal representative” of the estate). The executor functions under the jurisdiction of the probate court.
Fiduciary - The obligation to manage someone else’s assets in the same way a prudent person would manage his or her own assets.
Guardian - The person who has the legal duty to care for an unmarried minor child and/or manage the child’s property.
Heir - A person who inherits property.
Intestate - When a person dies without leaving a valid will or trust.
Issue - All lineal descendants of a person (e.g., children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.).
Joint Tenancy - A co-ownership of property by two or more parties. When one party dies, his or her interest passes to the other co-owner (known as the “right of survivorship”).
Living Trust - A legal entity created by a person to own and manage his or her property. The terms of the living trust govern the use and disposition of the trust funds. “Living Trust” is sometimes confused with “Living Will.” Please refer to “Advance Health Care Directive” for a definition of “Living Will.”
Power of Attorney - A written document in which a person (the principal) designates another person (the agent) to manage the principal’s financial affairs while the principal is living.
Probate - The legal proceeding through which the court supervises the process of transferring a deceased person’s assets to the persons or institutions entitled to receive them.
Revocable Living Trust - A living trust that can be changed or dissolved. This type of trust is in contrast to the Irrevocable Living Trust, which is one that cannot be changed or dissolved.
Testator - (If female, “Testatrix”) - A person who makes a will.
Trustee - The person or institution that is responsible for managing and distributing money and other property held by a living trust.
Trustor/Settlor/Grantor - A person who establishes a trust.
Will - A written document that directs disposition of an estate after a person's death.
© 2013 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved. (Marlene S. Cooper, a graduate of UCLA, has been an attorney for over 30 years. Her practice is focused entirely on estate planning, estate administration and probate. You may obtain further information at www.marlenecooperlaw.com, by e-mail at