Estate Planning Terminology for Non-Lawyers

Estate planning sign on a wooden pier with tall buildings in the background

When you decide to create an estate plan, you may encounter unfamiliar terminology that makes the process somewhat confusing. To make the estate planning process more easily understood, the estate planning lawyers at Sloan Law firm compiled this summary of estate planning terms. Rather than simply present a glossary of unconnected words, the terms are explained in the estate planning context.

What Is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan is a group of legal documents that protect you, your loved ones, and your assets for the future. Your plan accomplishes important goals, which include providing the legal framework for management and distribution of your property after you pass away, potentially safeguarding your assets against potential risks, communicating your final wishes, and designating individuals to act on your behalf in the event of incapacity.

Estate planning is the process of establishing your unique estate plan to address your personal and financial circumstances. The process includes determining your short-term and longer-term goals and needs, then putting legal documents in place to address those goals and needs.

Estate planning documents must meet specific legal requirements under Kansas law. Using the do-it-yourself or DIY approach creates substantial risks for you and your loved ones. Getting help from an experienced estate planning attorney is the only approach to creating an estate plan that ensures your estate plan fully accomplishes all your goals.

Documents in an Estate Plan

Every estate plan needs to be customized to your specific needs. While these are tailored to your circumstances, there are specific types of documents that are usually part of any estate plan.

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament — commonly referred to as a will — is one of the documents in almost every estate plan, although the role of a will differs in different types of estate planning structures. Your will takes effect on your death. It distributes property of the estate, expresses your final wishes, and accomplishes other essential goals.

A person who makes a will is called the testator (male) or testatrix (female). Individuals and organizations designated to receive property in a will are the beneficiaries. If a person dies without a will, they are described as dying intestate. In that situation, the Kansas laws of intestate succession determine distribution of the estate. Those who inherit through intestacy are called heirs, rather than beneficiaries.

In your will, you designate an executor to manage and distribute your estate. The executor has priority under Kansas law to apply for court appointment as the personal representative of your estate. A personal representative is an individual legally authorized to administer the estate of a decedent. A court-appointed personal representative has significant fiduciary duties relating to administration of the estate under Kansas law, which are some of the highest-level legal responsibilities imposed by law.

If a person dies without a will, or an executor does not wish to serve or cannot serve, the court appoints an administrator (not an executor) for the estate. Kansas law establishes a priority order of persons who can apply to serve as the administrator for an estate. Like an executor, an administrator is the personal representative of the estate when authorized by the court to administer the estate.

Trusts

Some estate plans include a trust to manage and control distribution of property. A trust is a legal arrangement established by a detailed legal document executed by the grantor or settlor.

A trust document should always be created with assistance from an estate planning lawyer, on account of the complex legal requirements that may apply under federal and state law and potential tax issues. When you make an estate plan, your attorney helps you determine whether you would benefit from including a trust in your estate plan.

The trust document establishes the terms of the trust, including how property is managed and distributed by the trustee designated in the document. The trustee is the person or financial institution responsible for administering and managing the trust in accordance with the stated terms. A trustee has substantial fiduciary duties under Kansas and federal laws.

There are many different types of trusts, each of which accomplishes different goals. A trust can be revocable, in which case it can be changed during the grantor’s lifetime, or it can be irrevocable, which means it can only be changed in very limited circumstances.

Durable Powers of Attorney / Advance Medical Directive / Living Will

Durable powers of attorney are essential components in any estate plan. These legal documents designate individuals to act on your behalf in the event of incapacity. Your durable financial power of attorney designates a person as your agent or attorney-in-fact to manage your financial matters if you become incapacitated temporarily or permanently. Your durable health care power of attorney designates a person as your agent to make medical and health care decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself due to incapacity.

Probate and Estate Administration

In the estate planning discussions with your attorney, you may encounter terms relating to management and distribution of an estate.

Estate administration is the process of settling an estate, which involves collecting property, paying debts and expenses of the estate, and distributing the property to beneficiaries or heirs. Every estate goes through some type of estate administration, since a decedent’s estate must be collected, distributed, and settled.

Probate is the formal, court-supervised process for administering the estate. Only some assets and some estates are required to complete the probate process. For some individuals, avoiding probate is one of the goals in creating an estate plan, which an estate planning attorney can help accomplish.

Talk With a Kansas Estate Planning Lawyer

Our experienced estate planning attorneys at Sloan Law Firm help clients create a new estate plan or revise an existing estate plan. We handle the full range of matters relating to estate planning, including preparation of wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, and other important estate plan documents. We assist clients throughout Kansas and invite you to contact us by calling (785) 357-6311 or using our online contact form.

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