Common estate planning terms you should know

Estate planning is an important step that people should take to protect their loved ones’ interests. It can help to understand the most common legal terms.

Planning one's estate is something that all Houston residents should do at some point during their lives. Without a will, trust or another form of estate plan in place, it is possible that assets might not be divided per the decedent's wishes.

The word "decedent" might cause some to pause. What exactly does this mean? According to the American Bar Association, this simply means a person who has passed away, and is often the person who created a will or trust. To distribute assets to loved ones with the least chance of a will contest in court, it is essential that proper estate planning be done.

Even so, states AARP, only three out of every five people over the age of 45 in the United States have a will. Estate planning may be done at any age over 18, and can include health care wishes as well as asset distribution. The following definitions are among the most likely to come up when discussing estate planning options with an attorney. It may be helpful to become familiar with them ahead of time.

Administrator - This is a court-appointed person who will be expected to manage an estate if the decedent did not appoint someone or if the person in mind could not serve.

Beneficiary - This is a loved one who receives assets from a will or trust. A beneficiary is also known as an heir, and can be a friend, associate or another person in addition to family members.

Guardian - This person or fiduciary has been appointed by the court to manage an incapacitated person's property and take care of him or her.

Executor - This is usually a trusted person that the creator of a will or trust appoints to carry out his or her wishes. In the absence of an executor, an administrator will usually be appointed.

Grantor - The one who creates a trust or contributes to one is known as the grantor.

Intestate - Dying without a will is known as being intestate. In this case, the distribution of assets is determined by the court.

Probate - Probate court is the court that handles estate planning matters. The process may go smoothly when a will or trust is in order, but may become complicated if there was no will or if there is a dispute.

Trust - This document can include specific instructions for the management of an estate, such as how the funds that are distributed to beneficiaries may be spent.

Will - A will is possibly the most common document that people create to designate how they want their estate to be divided upon their death.

It is never too early for Texas residents to begin thinking about their estate planning. Since these steps may be complex, speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney may be an effective way to ensure one's wishes are honored.