Glossary of Legal Terms used with Estate Planning


Administrator —A person named by the court (register of wills) to administer your estate when you die if you don’t name an Executor in your will or die without a will.  See Executor/Personal Representative.

Advanced (Health-Care) Directive — An advanced health-care directive allows you to appoint an individual to be responsible for making health care decisions on your behalf when you lack the capacity to do so yourself. Also known as a Living Will or Health-Care Proxy.

Assets — Basically, anything you own or have of value including your home and other real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, investments, furniture, jewelry, art, clothing and collectibles.

Beneficiary — Two definitions: 1. The people and/or organizations who receive property or money according to your will, trust, insurance policy, retirement plan, annuity or other contract. 2. An individual eligible for and enrolled in Medicaid.

Certified Elder Law Attorney  — An attorney certified by the National Elder Law Foundation, accredited by the American Bar Association who has advanced training, knowledge and experience with the law as it relates to seniors as well as an advanced understanding of special needs planning.

Codicil — A written change or amendment to your will.

Community Spouse – Term used in Medicaid planning when person continues to live in the community while his/her spouse resides in an Assisted Living Facility or Skilled Nursing Home and may be receiving long-term care benefits.

Elder Law — An area of legal practice that focuses on the legal needs of the elderly to address quality of life and independence. These needs generally include retirement planning, life insurance, long-term medical costs and estate planning. An attorney who is a Certified Elder Law Attorney will have other areas of expertise including Medicare, Social Security, veterans’ benefits. Elder law attorneys also handle issues concerning elder abuse.

Estate — Your estate is everything you own (assets) as well as all of your debts which will be distributed to your heirs and beneficiaries when you die.

Estate Plan – An Estate Plan is a set of legal documents and tools designed to protect your assets while you are alive and to clearly state how you want those assets distributed when you die. A comprehensive estate plan addresses virtually all of your legal needs in connection with property and investment holdings, related tax issues and important arrangements for a time in the future when you cannot speak for yourself (incapacity) or you need assistance.

Estate Tax/Gift Tax — An estate tax is paid from your estate when your property is transferred to someone else when you die. By contrast, gift taxes apply in certain situations when you give someone money or property during your life and that person pays income tax on the gift. Exemptions allow you to transfer property in your estate or as a gift up to certain limits without paying a tax.

Fiduciary — A person who has the legal duty to act primarily for someone else’s benefit.

Executor/ Personal Representative — The person you appoint in your Will to administer your estate when you die. See Administrator.

Grantor– The person who, working with an attorney, sets up or creates a trust. You are the grantor of your trust.

Guardian — A person with the legal power and obligation to take care of and manage the property and rights of a person who is considered incapable of taking care of his/ her own affairs because of age, understanding or self-control. May be called Conservator.

Guardianship — A court-controlled program for an individual who cannot manage his/her own affairs due to mental or physical incapacity. A Guardianship may also be called Conservatorship.

Health-Care Agent — An adult appointed by you to make health-care decisions for you if you become unable to make them for yourself (incapacity), including but not limited to end-of-life decisions.

Institutionalized Spouse – Term used in Medicaid planning for a spouse who is living in an Assisted Living Facility or Skilled Nursing Home at the time of application.

Medicaid — Medicaid is a federal government program run by the states that pays for medical services for low-income individuals and families, including long-term care for seniors (home care, assisted living and skilled nursing care).

Personal Representative/Executor — The person you appoint in your will to administer your estate when you die. See Administrator.

Power of Attorney — A legal document giving someone authority to make certain decisions for you if a serious medical or mental condition leaves you unable to communicate or make sound judgments.

Durable Power of Attorney for Asset Management — A legal document that gives another person full or limited legal authority to make financial decisions for you if you are temporarily incapacitated and unable to make such decisions. The authority ends when you die.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care — A legal document that gives someone you select the authority to make health-care decisions for you in the event you are unable to make them for yourself. See Health Care Agent.

Probate — The legal process of transferring title or ownership from the dead to the living.

Recording Costs — Fees charged when you file a deed.

Trust — An Estate Planning tool to help you manage your property during your life and smoothly transfer your property to loved ones when you die. There are many different types of trusts

Irrevocable Trust — An Irrevocable Trust can help you avoid probate with respect to the assets contained in the trust, and, properly drafted, can shield trust assets from personal creditors. One of the most complex trust documents used in advanced long-term care planning, an Irrevocable

Trust cannot be amended or revoked once it is created without the consent of the beneficiaries, trustees and grantors. An Asset Protection Trust is an irrevocable trust in which title and ownership of assets are transferred to a trustee, but the assets may be used for beneficiaries you name, including yourself. An Asset Protection Trust also allows you to direct investment of the assets and receive income and principal from the trust. An Asset Protection Trust can help you avoid probate with respect to the assets contained in the trust.

Revocable Trusts — A Revocable Trust allows the person setting up the trust (you) to retain the right to alter the trust at any time. So, you can change the beneficiaries, the age at which they benefit, how income is to be distributed and the purposes for which income may be used after the trust is set up. You can be the beneficiary and arrange for the trust assets and income to benefit others after you die. However, Revocable Trusts, also referred to as Living Trusts or Inter Vivos Trusts, have certain limitations, most notably that trust assets may not be shielded from your creditors.

Special-Needs Trust — Allows you to provide for a loved one with a disability without interfering with government benefits. May also be called a Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT)

Trust Protector — Someone who is appointed to watch over a trust that will be in effect for a long time to make sure the trust is not adversely affected by any changes in the law or circumstances.

Trustee — The person or institution who manages and distributes the assets according to instructions in the trust.

Ward — A person who needs protection and help with their affairs because they are unable to act for themselves.

Will — A legal document which names the individuals and organizations who are to receive your property and possessions when you die. If a person dies without a will he/she is said to have died ‘intestate’. A will can only be enforced through the probate court. Also called Last Will and Testament.

Pour Over Will — Often used with a Living Trust, this type of will states that any assets left out of your Living Trust will become part of (pour over into) your Living Trust upon your death.

Will with Contingent Supplemental Needs Trust (SNT) Provisions — A Special Needs or Supplemental Needs Trust comes into effect when a beneficiary under the trust is a supplemental- needs person. In the event that a beneficiary is applying for Medicaid, this type of trust will allow for the beneficiary to still be eligible for Medicaid although they will be receiving assets over the Medicaid asset limit. The reason for the eligibility is that the trustee has full discretion to administer funds to the beneficiary and the beneficiary does not have access to the funds (in short, this is not an available resource to the beneficiary).