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Important Estate Planning Terms to Understand

David W. Wilcox Dec. 2, 2021

No matter your age, your level of health, or the number of assets you have, everyone can benefit from having an estate plan in place. Unfortunately, many people falsely believe an estate plan is either unnecessary or would be so complicated to begin that they choose simply to forgo it. It can help to learn a few basic terms about estate planning and how it can benefit you.

Individuals and families in Bradenton, Florida or the surrounding counties of Matinee or Sarasota can enlist the help of an experienced estate planning attorney by calling the Law Offices of David W. Wilcox to set up a consultation. Attorney Wilcox can address your questions and concerns about estate planning once you take this first step.

Why Estate Planning is Important

When you die without an estate plan or will in place (known as dying “intestate”), it then becomes the responsibility of a court to decide what happens to your assets. A judge will usually assign a family member as the administrator of your estate and they’ll become responsible for locating, inventorying, assessing, and distributing your assets. Additionally, they’ll be responsible for contacting creditors and using any assets to pay off past debts, as well as pay legal fees and court fees associated with probate.

However, if you do have an estate plan in place, you will dramatically reduce the burden not only on the courts, but also on your loved ones. Additionally, you can be sure that all your assets are distributed exactly where you want them to go, and you’ll save your grieving family members the responsibility of devoting their time and money to wrapping up all your loose ends. Having an estate plan will give you peace of mind for your entire life, but especially when you start to age or if an unexpected accident or illness occurs.

Important Terms to Know

Every estate plan will look different, because each person has different priorities and responsibilities they’ll need to address. Below are some of the more common terms you should know when you first start thinking about an estate plan.

  • Decedent: This is a legal term that simply refers to the deceased person.

  • Estate: An estate is a general term used to describe all the property, money, and assets that are left behind after someone dies.

  • Probate: Probate is the legal process that occurs after someone dies in which their estate is “proved” by a court. A judge will work along with the estate’s assigned executor or administrator to inventory and assess the decedent's estate, ensure it’s distributed according to their wishes (or as equitably as seems fits if the person has died intestate), and allow time for creditors to be paid off with earnings from the estate. There are legal fees associated with probate that are usually paid off with the assets and the process typically takes several months to complete.

  • Intestate: When a person dies without a will or estate plan in place, it’s known as dying intestate.

  • Will: The most basic of the estate planning documents, a basic will allows someone to assign where their assets will go after they die as well as name a legal guardian to any minor children. Importantly, most wills still have to go through the process of probate.

  • Trust: A trust is another common estate planning document similar to a will, but allows more flexibility with asset allocation and allows control over assets while a person is still living. Because trusts transfer ownership of assets into the name of a trustee, when the trustor (or grantor) dies, these assets typically will not have to go through probate and can be distributed to beneficiaries more easily.

  • Beneficiary: Any person or heir that is left or receives money, property, or assets from a person’s estate after they die.

  • Executor: The person (or persons) named in a will or estate plan who’s responsible for carrying out the decedent's wishes that they’ve laid out in their estate plan. If assigned by a judge, this person is sometimes called the administrator of the estate.

  • Powers of attorney: Most estate plans have a person who has been assigned powers of attorney. This means they can make any financial or legal decisions for the benefactor should they die or become incapacitated and unable to communicate.

  • Advance healthcare directive: Sometimes called a “living will,” an advanced healthcare directive lays out a person’s end-of-life wishes should they become incapacitated and unable to communicate.

Work With a Trusted Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning can feel complex, but if you work with a qualified estate planning attorney, it can become a manageable task that ensures your family and loved ones are looked after. If you know you’d like to start an estate plan but don’t know where to start, or are simply curious about the process, call Attorney Wilcox today to set up an appointment. He’s been serving clients for years in his community of Bradenton, Florida, and can help you gain a better understanding of your estate planning needs.