Estate Planning Definitions


Administrator - a legal term for the male individual authorized by the Court through letters of administration to have the responsibility of collecting and properly distributing the assets of an estate that is not subject to a will (an intestate administration).  A female individual serving in this role is known as the Administratrix.  Often either a female or male may generally be referred to as the Administrator.

Advanced Directive - legal documents that help describe your wishes in case you are incapacitated and unable to voice your opinions (for example: if you are severely injured, suffer loss of memory).  New York recognizes three types: living will, do not resuscitate (DNR), and health care proxy.

Ancillary Probate - Legal term for probate which generally required in another state  if decedent has real property in another state that is titled individually.

Assets - All types of property available for the payments of your debts if titled or legally owned by you.

Beneficiary - A person (or charity) who is named as the person benefitting from either the creation of a trust, proceeds of an insurance policy, or property designated by a will.

Decedent - a legal term for a deceased individual.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) - A type of advanced directive recognized in New York. It tells health care providers and emergency workers not to revive you if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating.

Estate - A decedent’s individually owned property and assets (or property held as a tenant in common), including real estate, bank accounts, stocks, investment accounts, annuities, life insurance, IRAs and other qualified plans, as well as personal property such as furnishings, automobiles and jewelry.

Estate Tax - A tax that may be imposed upon death, based upon the value of the gross estate for estate tax purposes. The tax is imposed due to the ability to transfer your wealth at death if your total taxable estate (includes all your assets even those non-probate assets) is over a certain amount at the time of your death.  These amounts change due to changes in law. The NY State threshold is $5,250,000 on or after April 1, 2017, and on or before December 31, 2018.  There is also a Federal Estate Tax, at $11,180,000 per person in 2018.  It is possible to not have a Federal Estate Tax obligation but have a NY State Estate Tax obligation.  

Executor - a legal term for the male individual authorized by the Court through letters testamentary to have the responsibility of collecting and properly distributing the assets of an estate that is subject to a will (a testamentary estate).  A female individual serving in this role is known as the Executrix.  Often either a female or male may generally be referred to as the Executor.

Grantor - An individual who establishes a trust (also known as “trustor” or “settlor”).

Guardian - see Legal Guardian of the Person, Legal Guardian of the Property, and Guardian Ad Litem

Health Care Proxy - The New York Health Care Proxy Law allows you to appoint someone you trust — for example, a family member or close friend – to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself. By appointing a health care agent, you can make sure that health care providers follow your wishes.

Intestate Administration - procedure for determining the heirs to your property when there is no last will & testament or trust.

Legal Guardian of the Person - a person approved by a Judge (and hopefully identified in estate planning guardianship designation forms) to make decisions about health, education, and welfare of a child or an individual who is incapacitated and not currently able to take care of themselves. In New York, the Surrogate’s Court or the Family Court can grant authority for the legal guardian of the person.

Legal Guardian of the Property - a person approved by a Judge (and hopefully identified in estate planning guardianship designation forms) to manage the assets and finances of a child or an individual who is incapacitated and not currently able to take care of themselves. In New York, only the Surrogate’s Court can grant authority for the legal guardian of property.

Living Trust- a trust established during life to hold assets during life as property owned and held by a trust rather than property owned by an individual person.  There are various types of living trusts that may be formed for a variety of reasons (which may include: business planning, tax planning, long term care planning, avoidance of probate, care for a loved one who has or may have a disability, drug problem, troubled relationship)

Living Will -  Lets you say what care you want - or don't want - at the end of life. It takes effect when you cannot make your own decisions, and your doctor confirms that you have an incurable condition.

Medicaid - An entitlement program implemented through the state as a needs-based program providing payment for health care services, including long-term care for eligible applicants.

Medicare - A federal government health insurance plan that provides hospital, medical, and surgical benefits for persons age 65 and older and people with certain disabilities.

Pourover Will - a last will and testament that is used if needed to cover any assets that are not transferred into a trust before your death and would otherwise require court supervision through a probate.

Power of Attorney - A document appointing an agent to make specified legal, business, financial, and personal decisions for the principal.

Probate - the procedure and process of proving a will through court supervision.  In general, a will without a trust will be subject to a probate proceeding upon the death of the maker of the will.

Revocable Living Trust - A trust created to hold assets during the Grantor’s lifetime, passing assets to the trust beneficiaries on death without the expense and delay of probate proceedings.

Special Needs Trust (Supplementary Needs Trust) - A trust which assists a person with a disability to maintain eligibility for government benefits [for example, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)].

Testamentary Trust - a trust established in a will that begins at the death of the testator if triggered in the language of the will.

Trust - a contractual agreement establishing the guidelines for the transfer, care, and distribution of a assets for the benefit of a Beneficiary through the supervision and care of a Trustee.

Will - a “last will and testament” is a document that establishes and expresses your plans and desires for the distribution of your assets. Generally, the creation of a new last will and testament revokes a prior will. You may also amend a will by creating a codicil. Wills should be established only with the help of an attorney to reduce the likelihood of errors. If there is any property governed by your will when you pass, the will is probated meaning subject to court supervision.