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Michigan Elder Law Today

Thursday, January 21, 2016

It All Sounds Greek to Me! A Glossary of Basic Estate Planning Terms

One of the pitfalls of being a lawyer is that sometimes you spend so much time around other lawyers that you forget how to talk like a human being. At Byers & Goulding we do our very best to cut out the jargon, but sometimes a little bit slips in. So, below is a lawyer to human translation guide you can use when talking with us, or other estate planning attorneys.

Beneficiaries - The people or organizations who benefit from a trust or from the distribution of an estate.

Bequest - A gift given to a specific person or organization in a will.

Codicil - An amendment to a will. If you want to make a change to your will without creating an entirely new will, you can sometimes do a codicil.

Decedent - This is a fancy term for the person who has died.

Estate - All the assets and debts left by a person upon his or her death.

Incapacitated/Incompetent - Legally unable (often because of physical or mental illness) to manage one’s own affairs. A person can be incapacitated either temporarily or permanently.

Heir - A person legally entitled to inherit the property of someone who dies.

Holographic Will- A handwritten will. 

Intestate - A person who dies without a will is said to have died intestate. When this happens, state and federal law dictate what will happen to the decedent’s assets.

Personal Representative/Executor/Executrix - The individual given responsibility and legal authority to carry out the wishes of the person who has died. The personal representative has the legal duty to act in the best interest of the estate. If others are unsatisfied with the personal representative’s work, they can bring a court action against him or her. Personal representatives are often paid for their work.

Probate - This is the court process that determines if a will is valid or invalid. It is one of the first steps taken by the person tasked with handling the decedent’s estate. 

Residual Estate - This is the amount of money left over after a decedent’s debts have been paid and all the specific wishes (like gifts to certain people) have been carried out.

Testator/Testatrix - The creator of a will. Testator is a male, testatrix is a female.

Trust - A legal entity that holds assets for the benefit of certain other persons or entities.

Will - a written document that goes into effect upon its creator’s death. Wills tell the world what the creator wanted done with his or her property after death. Wills are also the place where parents nominate guardians for their minor children.

This guide is meant to serve as a tool for times when your attorney messes up and speaks in too much legalese. However useful it may or may not be, it is no substitute for sitting down with your attorney and asking them any and all the questions you may have.

Having those face to face conversations is important to us at Byers & Goulding because we are focused on making the estate planning experience as simple as possible for our clients. To us, that means focusing on clear communication and doing everything it takes to meet our clients’ needs. If you are ready to work with a firm that puts you first, call 248-301-1511 today to schedule a free initial consultation at our office in Auburn Hills. 


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