Glossary of Estate Planning Terms
Will – a written document specifying a person’s wishes concerning his or her property distribution upon his or her death.
In order to be enforced by a court of law, a will must be signed in accordance with the applicable wills act.
Testator/Testatrix – the person who signs the will.
Heirs – beneficiaries of an estate.
Executor/Executrix – the individual given authority by the testator to make decisions to put the testator’s written directions into effect.
Once the will is entered into probate, the executor’s signature is equivalent to the testator’s. The executor has a legal duty to the heirs of the estate to act in the best interest of the estate, and may collect a fee for performing such service.
Administrator/Administratrix – the person who assumes the role of the executor when a person dies without a will (intestate).
The Administrator must apply with the local probate office and may be required to provide a bond to be held in escrow as collateral for control over the assets of the estate.
Codicil – an amendment to a will.
In order to be valid, a codicil must comply with all the requirements of the applicable wills act.
Holographic Will– a handwritten will.
Holographic wills are often exempt from requirements of the applicable wills act.
Bequest – a gift given by the testator to his or her heirs through a will.
Residual Estate – the balance of a testator’s belongings after debts have been paid and specific bequests have been distributed.
Intestate – not having signed a will before one dies; a person who dies without having signed a will.
Life Estate – a bequest that gives an heir the right to have exclusive use of a property for the remainder of his or her life, but without the power to transfer such property upon the death of that heir.
The property will transfer to the heirs of the residual estate after the death of the beneficiary of the life estate.
Per stirpes – a Latin phrase precisely translated as “by the branch” meaning that, if an heir named in the will dies before the testator, that heir’s share will be divided equally among that beneficiary’s own heirs.
An alternative to per capita, described below.
Per capita – a Latin phrase precisely translated as “by the head” meaning that, if an heir named in the will dies before the testator, that heir’s share will be divided among the testator’s remaining heirs.
An alternative to per stirpes, described above.
While it is a good idea to have a basic understanding of fundamental estate planning vocabulary, this cannot serve as a substitute for the services of an experienced attorney.