There’s nothing more frustrating than listening to the pretentiousness of someone attempting to make himself or herself look better, smarter, wiser, etc. Sure, we all love to see it play out on the movie screen, mostly because there’s a bad guy about to get his just desserts. In the real world, though, we meet with clients who want answers – the plain and simple truth about estate planning, wills and trusts. Estate planning legalese works well in law school. In the real world? Not so much. Here are few of those common phrases you might run across in your efforts of shoring up your own estate planning along with what they really mean.
The ADMINISTRATOR is simply someone named by the probate court to settle an estate. Typically, an administrator is named when someone dies without having left a will (he dies INTESTATE). When that happens, the courts step in and ensure the estate is settled legally and in line with the state’s laws.
A BENEFICIARY is someone or something (a charitable organization, for instance) who benefits from the assets of a will or trust.
If a CODICIL is part of a will, it simply means the original will had been amended or otherwise changed.
If someone needs assistance in managing his financial, legal or medical affairs, the probate court may setup a CONSERVATORSHIP. As part of that conservatorship, the court will also name a CONSERVATOR. On the other side of that, if the deceased person named someone instead of leaving it to a court, he or she chose an EXECUTOR, EXECUTRIX or PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE. The executor, executrix or personal representative (depending on the gender of the person and the verbiage if the jurisdiction) will be the one who carries out the final wishes of the DECEDENT.
If it’s necessary for assets or property to be protected until an executor, trustee, guardian or conservator takes over, he or she is a FIDUCIARY. If there are minor children or a special needs adult involved, the court may also name a GUARDIAN.
If you are an HEIR, you are the one who will legally inherit an estate if there was no will left behind. If there was a will left behind, the people or other entities who will receive any of the assets mentioned in that will are LEGATEES.
In New Hampshire, a surviving spouse has the right to maintain up to $100,000 of the principal residence after the death of his or her spouse. This is known as HOMESTEAD RIGHTS. In Massachusetts, HOMESTEAD RIGHTS vary depending on the ages of the residents and whether a declaration of homestead has been filed with the registry of deeds, but homestead protection in Massachusetts can be up to $500,000 per resident.
PERSONAL PROPERTY is anything that’s not classified as “real property”. This might include stocks, bonds, cars, furniture, cash and bank accounts.
A PROBATE BOND is a promissory document provided by the fiduciary that guarantees any funds will be replaced up to the amount of that bond. This is done to protect the interests of any beneficiaries should the fiduciary not fulfill his obligations.
If one dies intestate, he or she dies without a will. If the estate is TESTATE, it simply means a valid will was properly created and filed.
A TRUST is a document that spells out how another will protect property, real or personal, until the beneficiary is able to take possession. For example, if a beneficiary is a minor child, at the time he or she reaches adulthood or according to the will, he or she will receive those assets at some point in the future.
Of course, these are just a few of the many formal words that present as estate planning legalese. They’re part of every legal document; however, you should never feel as though you’re unsure of what’s going on. The right estate planning lawyer will move mountains to protect their clients while also going over the details so that there are no surprises later on. To learn more about estate planning and how it can protect your future, contact our offices today.
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