Estate Planning Terms to Know

A Brief Glossary of Terms

As part of wise financial planning, estate planning is something everyone should consider even for those who do not have a lot of assets. To help get you get started, here are some common terms you may encounter.


Court-supervised process wherein the executor or representative collects and distributes an estate during probate. 


Property or anything that you own. This includes real estate, your home, investments, jewelry, and other valuables & collectibles.


The beneficiary is the person or organization who receives the trust assets in the case of a living trust. 


An amendment to the terms of a will where no rewriting is necessary.


A deed is a physical document that declares your legal ownership of a property, and also allows you to transfer that property ownership to another person.

Durable Power of Attorney

If you become incapacitated, durable power of attorney directs an individual of your choosing to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf.


Also called a personal representative, the executor is the person named in a will. They are appointed by court to administer the deceased’s estate. Females may be referred to as the “executrix.”


Associated with trusts, fiduciary describes the relationship between the trustee and beneficiary. A fiduciary is also legally charged to act on behalf of another person or persons, taking care of their assets.


The grantor is the creator of the trust. Also known as the settlor, donor, or trustor. 


An heir is entitled by law to receive your property or asset if there is no will.  

Holographic Will

A document entirely handwritten and signed by the testator.

Irrevocable trust 

As the name suggests, this type of trust cannot be terminated, revoked, or amended by the grantor.

Joint tenancy 

This refers to equal joint ownership of a property by two or more persons, and creates a Right of Survivorship.  

Living Trust

A written legal document that creates an entity to which an individual transfers ownership of their assets. This document is created during the individual’s lifetime and is not subject to the public probate.

Marital Trust 

Also known as an “A” trust, this type of trust lets you transfer your assets tax free to your surviving spouse in the event of your death. 

Power of Attorney

This is a written authorization whereby one individual may act on behalf of another as an agent when it comes to legal and financial matters. Terminates upon the death of the person granting authority, unless “coupled with an interest.”


The legal process of authenticating a decedent’s will, taking inventory and appraising the estate, and distributing the assets according to the decedent’s last wishes. If there is no will, the process for probate remains the same. In this case, probate is still required to pay any outstanding bills and distribute the assets to the designated beneficiaries.

Revocable trust 

A revocable trust can be terminated, revoked, modified, or amended by the grantor.

Special Needs Trust 

This is a specialized trust that allows a disabled individual to supplement benefits the person with special needs may receive from government financial aid. 


A trust is a fiduciary relationship in which a trustor gives another party (the trustee) the right to own and manage property for the beneficiary.


Wills take effect after your death and they lay out your final wishes for how to dispose of your property.

Your Southern California Estate Planning Attorneys

While this list is by no means extensive, we hope that these terms piqued your interest when it comes to estate planning. More importantly, we encourage you not to wait until you are ill or incapacitated to prepare your loved ones for the future. To help you factor in all outcomes and for solid legal advice, our experienced Southern California estate planning attorneys at Hoffman & Forde are here to help.

When you invest resources towards estate planning, you’re investing in peace of mind. Our boutique law firm has experts across disciplines and relevant industries to make sure all your bases are covered. We tailor your estate plan to you and your goals with our creative solutions and collaborative approach. Call us today for a consultation.

Written By

Hoffman & Forde, Attorneys at Law