Knowing a few common terms can go a long way in understanding estate planning. For example, if you’re unsure what a trustee and an executor are, you won’t know who to choose for each (very important) role.
Let’s dive into some estate planning basics!
Common Estate Planning Terms
Planning for your estate after death helps secure the future of your assets and helps you figure out what you want and how to accomplish it. Creating an estate plan gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be respected upon your passing – even if your loved ones may be unhappy about it.
An estate plan can also reduce tax obligations for your family and prevent or minimize family conflicts. A will is a significant part of the estate planning process. Wills outline how you want your assets to be distributed, who should take care of any dependents, and who will carry out your wishes.
When learning about estate planning, there are some terms you’ll need to know, including:
- Probate – the court process that validates wills and administers the estate
- Executor/Executrix – the person named in a will to manage estate assets
- Trust – a legal tool used for managing assets, often in order to avoid probate
- Trustee – the person named in a trust to manage trust assets
- Intestate succession – a situation where no will exists, and heirs are determined by state law
- Personal Representative – the person who administers an estate (this is the umbrella term used in Tennessee for executors, etc.)
- Guardian – a person who is named to oversee the needs of a minor child
- Beneficiary – someone who is specifically named to inherit
- Heir – someone who inherits based on their family relationship
Understanding these terms will help you make decisions that protect your legacy.
Creating a Will and Trust
Creating an estate plan can involve the use of wills and trusts.
A will outlines how you want your assets to be distributed after death, who should take care of your children, and who will handle the administration of your estate. However, the purpose of a will is to go to probate. When drafting a will it’s crucial to consider factors such as family dynamics, non-probate assets, and the potential for disputes.
On the other hand, trusts provide added benefits like privacy and flexibility. When well-funded, it bypasses the need for probate proceedings. Even without lots of funding, trusts enable you to better control how your assets are managed during your lifetime and after you pass away.
Whether you choose to have a will or trust is a personal decision, but setting up a trust can offer advantages such as increased control over asset distribution, continuity in managing your estate affairs, and potential tax benefits. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to have both!
Appointing Executors and Trustees
If your estate plan involves a will or trust, it is crucial to appoint executors and trustees.
An executor (or personal representative) is responsible for carrying out the terms of the will. For example, an executor must distribute assets and handle obligations during the probate process. It is important to choose someone with integrity, conflict-resolution skills, and financial knowledge. Since you won’t be there to smooth out any disputes that arise, choosing a capable peacemaker is a must.
Trustees, on the other hand, oversee trusts. They ensure that assets are managed according to your instructions for the benefit of beneficiaries. It is advisable to select a trustee with expertise in finance who’s committed to fulfilling your wishes. In other words, pick someone you can trust as your trustee.
Good options for executors or trustees may include attorneys or financial institutions, since they are generally impartial and have specialized knowledge. By ensuring reliable individuals or entities fill these roles, you can safeguard your intentions for properly managing your estate.
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