There is a growing push for the use of plain legal language in the field of law. Clients are increasingly put off by impenetrable legalese and the ever more global nature of our world demands ever more accessible uses of language. While needed changes are beginning to arrive, they are nonetheless slow in the making. Here at the Deliberato Law Center, we wish we could force a general reset of the language that composes the documents required of a robust estate plan but, unfortunately, we don’t hold that power. We do have the ability to ensure our clients understand every step that goes into protecting their health, wealth, and family well-being, however. Toward that end, we have prepared the following A-Z dictionary of common estate planning terms.

The Estate Planning Terms Your Need to Know to Plan for Long-Term Well-Being:

1. Principal and Fiduciary
These are the “me” and “you” of estate planning are crucial terms to understand.

The principal is the person for whom an estate planning document is being prepared. If we are talking about your estate plan, you are the principal.

A fiduciary is a person (or business) that carries legal responsibility to act on another person’s behalf

2. Executor or Administrator
The executor or administrator of your estate plan is the fiduciary who does the legwork of gathering your assets, paying your outstanding bills, and ultimately distributing your belongings to your beneficiaries. These two terms designate the same role. The use of one or the other is dependent on the type of estate plan you have put in place.

3. Beneficiary
Your beneficiaries are those people designated in your estate plan to receive your property after you pass. Often, beneficiaries are listed “or to his (or her) descendants, per stirpes.” This simply means that if a beneficiary predeceases the testator, the beneficiary’s share passes to their children.

4. Testator
This term designates the person who creates and signs a will. The principal is also the testator. However, these terms are not synonymous as a “principal” can be used in other contexts, as well.

5. Trustor, Trustmaker, Grantor, or Settler
In trust-based estate plans, the principal is designated by one of these terms. A trustor, trustmaker, grantor, or settler is simply a person who makes a trust.

6. Trustee
A trustee is to a trust what an executor is to a will. In other words, the fiduciary of a trust is the trustee.

If in reading through this list you have found yourself thinking, “why so many complex words for such simple things?” you’re not alone. Legalese can be a frustrating barrier that prevents many people from accessing the legal services they need. This said a good estate planning attorney will make every effort to ensure you understand every aspect of your plan despite the antiquated vocabulary of which it is composed.

To dive deeper into understanding the estate planning process or to get your plan started today, do not hesitate to reach out to the Deliberato Law Center either by calling us at (216) 341-3413 or using the contact form on our website. 


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