Glossary of Estate and Trust Terms
By Daniel B. Evans
2001. All rights reserved. Not
A record of the transactions of an executor, administrator, trustee,
guardian, or other fiduciary, usually filed in court. A fiduciary
may wish to file an account in court in order to be released from
liability, and a court may order a fiduciary to file an account
whenever there are questions about the administration of the estate
The person or institution appointed to collect, manage, and
distribute a decedent's estate when there is no executor. An
administrator is appointed by the Register of Wills whenever (a)
there is no will, (b) there is a will but the
will fails to name an executor, or (c) there is a will and the will
names executors but all of the executors have failed or ceased to
A person with the power to act for another person (the "principal")
under a document called a "power of
attorney." An attorney-in-fact is sometimes referred to as
A person entitled to any income or principal of an estate or trust
or other contract (such as a life insurance contract or retirement
plan). Beneficiaries can have present interests or future interests.
An "income beneficiary" is a person presently entitled to
some or all of the income of a trust. A "remainderman" is
a beneficiary entitled to the balance of a trust fund only after
another beneficiary has died (or the trust otherwise ends).
An amendment to a will (or another codicil). A codicil must be
signed with the same formalities as a will.
The person appointed to manage property for a minor under the
Uniform Transfers to Minor Act (or Uniform Gifts to Minors Act).
To refuse to accept (or renounce) a gift or benefit.
Most commonly used to describe the property of a decedent that is
administered by an executor or administrator and distributed
according to the will or laws of intestacy. (sometimes called the
"probate estate"). The term is not limited to the property
of a decedent, and can also be used to refer to the property
of a minor, incapacitated person, bankrupt, or trustee that is
administered by a guardian or trustee. Or it can be used to describe
certain interests in property (such as "life estate"). And
it is frequently used to describe all of the property subject to
estate tax at death (the "gross estate" or "taxable
A tax imposed on the decedent's estate for the transmission of
property at death. (Compare "inheritance
The person or institution named in a will to
carry out (or "execute") the provisions of the will.
An executor, administrator,
attorney-in-fact, or other person who
must manage property or exercise rights or powers for the benefit of
A guardian is person appointed to take care of a minor or an
incapacitated person. There are actually two different types of
guardians, guardians "of the person" and guardians "of
Guardian of the Estate
A guardian of the estate of a minor or incapacitated person manages
the property of the ward for the ward's benefit. A guardian of the
estate must usually be appointed by a court and must usually get
permission of the court before spending the ward's money.
Guardian of the Person
A guardian of the person takes care of the physical needs of the
minor or incapacitated person, making sure that the person is housed
and fed and kept in good health, both physically and mentally. A
guardian of the person of a minor really becomes a substitute
parent, providing a home for the minor and making sure that the
minor is properly educated.
For the purpose of fiduciary accounts, "income" means
rents, interest, dividends, or other periodic receipts for the use
of property, or profits from business operations, and may not be the
same as income for tax purposes.
A tax imposed on the beneficiary for the transmission of property at
death. (Compare "estate tax.") In
practice, the difference between an estate tax (as a tax on the
estate) and inheritance tax (as a tax on the beneficiary) is more
theoretical than real, because the tax is collected from the estate
in both cases and the only significant difference is in the
calculation of the tax (because the inheritance tax may be affected
by the number of beneficiaries and their relationship to the
decedent). Less than 12 states still impose a tax that could be
termed an "inheritance tax."
Between living persons. Used to describe lifetime gifts or trusts
established during lifetime. The opposite of "inter vivos"
is "testamentary," which
describes gifts or trusts by will.
A will is a "testament"
and a person with a will is "testate," so a person who
dies without a will is "intestate." The condition of being
intestate is "intestacy."
Each state has statutes that direct how the decedent's estate is
distributed among his or her relatives (if any) when there is no
will (or the will fails to distribute the entire estate, resulting
in a partial intestacy).
Letters of Administration; Letters
The document issued by the Register of Wills that identifies the
personal representative entitled to take possession of the
decedent's estate. "Letters testamentary" are issued to
the executor(s) appointed by a will, while "letters of
administration" are issued to the administrator of an estate.
A person who is less than eighteen years of age. (Twenty-one years
of age for the purpose of the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.)
A gift (or "devise" or "bequest") in a will of a
stated amount of cash. (Sometimes called a "general bequest.")
Property that is not "real property" (land and buildings).
Personal property can be "tangible," meaning that the
property has a physical existence and can be touched, like cars,
boats, jewelry, furniture, and animals. Personal property can also
be "intangible," meaning that the value of the property is
in the legal rights that are represented, like promissory notes,
corporate stock, partnership interests, or patents or copyrights.
The executor or administrator
of a decedent's estate.
Power of Appointment
A power to decide who will receive property. A power can be a
"lifetime power" which is exercisable while the power
holder is living, or a "testamentary
power" that is exercisable only by will. A
power can also be "general," meaning that the property can
be appointed to anyone (including the power holder) or "special,"
meaning that the property can only be appointed to a limited group
Power of Attorney
A document by which one person (the "principal")
can authorize another person (the "attorney-in-fact"
or "agent") to act for him or her. A power of attorney
which is effective even after the principal is legally incapacitated
is a "durable power of attorney." A power of attorney can
also be "general," meaning that the agent can do almost
anything the principal can do, or "limited," meaning that
the agent only has certain specified powers.
(1) The property originally received by a trustee
or other fiduciary, and the capital gains
and reinvestments of that property, but not the income
from the property. (2) The person executing a power
The process by which a will is proven to be the
validly executed last will of the decedent. Can also refer to the
entire court-supervised administration of a decedent's estate.
Property that is land or improvements attached to land (like
buildings, streets, and gardens). Property that is not "real
property" is "personal
Residue (or Residuary Estate)
The property left for distribution after all of the administration
expenses, debts, taxes, and specific or
pecuniary gifts have been paid or
A gift (or "devise" or "bequest") in a will of a
specific piece of property, such as a specific lot or building, a
specific piece of jewelry, or a certain number of shares of a
Another name for a will.
Of or by a will. For example, a "testamentary
trust" is a trust created by a will.
A person who makes a will. After making a will, the testator is
"testate." (Compare "intestate.")
A legal arrangement in which the title (or management) or property
is separated from the benefit of the property.
The person responsible for the administration of a trust.
Uniform Transfers to Minors Act
A statute that allows gifts to minors through a custodian for the
minor. The statute replaced the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act in most
A document by which a person can direct the distribution of his or
her etate at death. Also known as a "testament."
Evans Law Office
Daniel B. Evans,
Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 27370
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Telephone: (866) 348-4250