Estate Planning Glossary


Goods: Essentially includes everything you own. This includes life insurance, commercial interests, movable property, real estate and pension plans. The "value" of your estate is determined by the "fair market value" of the asset.

Approval: The public process, under judicial control, to change the title of the property of the deceased. Since deceased persons are legally incapable of transferring property, the Probate Court defines the process of transferring the property of the deceased. Owning a property in multiple states will require several checks.

Will: A legal document that informs the estate court of the wishes of the deceased regarding the distribution of his assets. A will is only effective after the death of the person.

alternates: Certain forms of property that automatically transfer property to death. The most common designations are beneficiary designations and joint tenancies. Substitutes of will can lead to unexpected results and consequences.

Trust: Legal document providing instructions to a personal trustee on the management and distribution of the estate. A living trust is established during the person's life and is generally revocable and modifiable. A properly funded trust avoids probate and can provide instructions for estate management in the event of death or disability. A testamentary trust is established as part of a will, but, like a will, it is effective only upon death and must also be verified. Special types of trusts can be used to provide children or grandchildren with disabilities, called trust for special needs. In addition, some irrevocable trusts can help protect assets against retirement home expenses.

When you create trust, you (Trust maker) transfer your property to the trust for the purpose of being managed by you or another person of your choice (curator) for your benefit or that of someone else (Beneficiary). In a Living Trust, you are usually the Trust maker, curator and Beneficiary so that you maintain full management and control over your assets. However, at the time of your death, if the trust then owns everything in the estate, there is nothing to check and this process is avoided. Your successor trustee simply follows your instructions to better manage and distribute your estate. A revocable Living Trust does not require any special or additional tax deposits and can generally be revoked or amended at any time.

guardianship: Guardianship is a legal relationship in which the Probate Court gives a person (the guardian) the power to make personal decisions (ie, medical decisions) for another (the unfit person). If the judge determines that the person does not have the mental capacity to support himself, he will appoint a guardian. Unless limited by the court, the guardian generally has the same rights, powers and duties with respect to the person that the parents have over their minor children.

conservatorship: A curator is a legal relationship in which the probate court gives one person (the curator) the power to make financial decisions on behalf of another person (the protected person). The court proceedings are similar to those of a guardianship except that the judge determines if the person has the ability to manage his finances. If the person is determined not to have the necessary mental capacity, the court will appoint a curator to make financial decisions for him. Once appointed, the registrar must annually file an accounting record of all income and expenses generated on behalf of the protected person.

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