I don’t speak French.
Well, maybe a few words. Hello, goodbye, one, two, three. (I’m QUITE certain my pronunciation of those few is still like nails on a chalkboard to a native!)
But when I had the amazing opportunity to go to Paris with some friends, I couldn’t say anything but “OF. COURSE.” One problem: I had to arrive in Paris a bit later than everyone else, so I’d be flying in solo and then have to rendezvous (Ha! See what I did there?!).
I was terrified.
I couldn’t read the signs or understand the announcements, and unfortunately not all of them had an English translation listed. Thank goodness for pictures! Luckily, once I met up with the group, a few of my friends took the lead and acted as guides. I didn’t have to worry anymore. Ah, Parisian bliss.
Why am I telling you this?
(No, I'm not asking for a guide to go back to France. But if you're offering . . .)
I'm telling you this because sometimes lawyers seem to be speaking a foreign language. This can be terrifying and make you want to just walk the other way. I get it.
But it’s my goal to do the opposite--I want to use plain, easy-to-understand language.
Unfortunately the law seems to particularly hate “plain, easy-to-understand language.”
So allow me to introduce myself! I’m Tara, and I’ll be your translator. Your guide. Your window into the mysterious and wonderful world of estate planning! As an estate planning attorney, it's my job to make this process a little less scary and intimidating.
To be honest, there are dozens of words and phrases that may be confusing (“dozens” might be an understatement). But I’ve got you! One step at a time.
I’m gonna start out with the basics:
Who are the key players in wills and estate planning?
There are quite a few, so I’ve picked out just 9 to start. Let’s dive in!
Agent - An agent is someone who handles either the financial and/or medical affairs of another individual. This person is either named by you or appointed by the court. Also known as an attorney-in-fact or a proxy.
Beneficiary - A beneficiary is someone that will receive part of your estate as specified in your estate planning documents (such as a will or a living trust).
Descendant - A descendant is someone who was born or legally adopted into the direct line of another person (e.g., children, grandchildren, and so on). A spouse, stepchild, sibling, parent, or grandparent are not descendants.
Decedent - A decedent is a person who has passed away.
Executor - An executor is someone named in a will that administers the estate, which includes tasks such as distributing property to beneficiaries, paying taxes, and handling debts. Also known as a personal representative. (Quick note--if someone dies without a will, the person who handles these tasks is called an administrator)
Grantor - A grantor is someone who sets up or creates a trust, but it can also be someone who gives property to another person or trust. Also known as a trustmaker, creator, settlor, founder, trustor, or even donor.
Heir - An heir is someone that is entitled to receive part of your estate under the law. In certain situations (such as if there is no will or trust), this person would be entitled to receive some or all of your property. Two common examples are your surviving spouse and your children.
Testator - A testator is a person who has a properly executed will when they pass away.
Trustee - This one might be a bit complicated. For now, just know that a trustee is someone that holds and/or administers trust property. This could mean managing financial accounts, buying and selling property, transferring property to beneficiaries, and so on. Usually, trustees are named in the Trust Agreement.
This isn’t even ALL of the folks involved--there’s also life beneficiaries, fiduciaries, guardians, and conservators, just to name a few. Crazy, huh?
I hope this helps demystify this a bit. I consider it an essential part of my job as an estate planning lawyer to explain these things in down-to-earth, easy-to-understand language.
Any questions? Just reach out to me; I’m happy to help!
Want to learn how you can get started?
Jusqu'à la prochaine fois! (“Until next time!” . . . according to Google Translate)