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20 Estate Planning Legal Terms You Need to Know

Having a complete and comprehensive estate plan is the most effective thing you can do to protect your family as a whole, and ultimately your legacy. But estate planning in California is known for being incredibly complicated and confusing if you aren’t a California estate planning attorney.

The first step to making it less intimidating is to have a more thorough understanding of it. To start, understanding some of the essential terminology and vocabulary involved in estate planning is essential. Here are the terms you should know to better understand your estate planning options.

Advanced Healthcare Directive

Also known as a living will, a healthcare directive ensures your wishes for treatment or interventions are followed in the event of your incapacitation.


Assets are, generally speaking, anything that someone owns. This includes homes, investments, bank accounts, insurance policies, art, jewelry, and other physical possessions.


A person, charity, or other entity that is named as a recipient of some portion of the decedent’s assets.


This is any change, or amendment, to a will. It will explain, change, or revoke portions of a previously established document like a will.


The decedent is the person that passes away, and whose assets or estate are being distributed.


Any payment via cash or assets to a beneficiary or other entitled party.

Durable Power Of Attorney

This is a document that grants another party, person, or institution decision-making power on your behalf in the event of incapacitation.

Estate Settlement

The process of valuation, payments, distributions, and other final affairs following someone’s death.

Incapacitation and Incompetence

The state of being unable, either physically or mentally, to manage one’s own affairs. This can be a temporary or permanent condition.  


Assets a beneficiary receives from a decedent.


If someone dies without a will or any estate planning measures, they are said to be intestate. Intestate situations often require court intervention.

Joint Tenancy

Co-ownership in a property allows the property to pass to the survivor automatically.


The overarching process of validating a will and settling an estate.

Revocable & Irrevocable

Important terms that dictate whether or not documents related to a trust can be changed.


The owner of the estate and assets, and the maker of the will.

Transfer On Death / Pay On Death

Accounts that are set up specifically to pass to named beneficiaries upon the passing of the account owner.


A legal document that allows the management of assets on the behalf of one or more beneficiaries


The person or entity that administers the terms of the trust for the named beneficiaries.

Trustor or Settlor

The person that creates and sets up the trust for the beneficiaries, and who will eventually become the decedent.


The will is the legal document that lays out all of the details for the distribution of assets and guardianship of minor children following death and is considered the most basic element of estate planning.

Let Experts Handle the Details

Reach out today to our office with any questions, or for more information about starting your estate planning documents.