Estate Planning Glossary of Terms


The estate planning process can be full of confusing terminology. To become an active participant in the process, it's helpful to familiarize yourself with a few essential terms:

  • Beneficiary: The beneficiary is the person or persons who will receive the property being distributed in the estate.
  • Codicil: When changes need to be made to a will, a codicil can be used to amend the terms of the document without requiring a complete rewrite.
  • Executor: Also called a personal representative, the executor is the individual, bank, or company that settles the estate of the testator.
  • Fiduciary: An individual or bank or trust company acting for the benefit of another is called a fiduciary. In estate planning, fiduciaries can be trustees, executors, and personal representatives.
  • Grantor: Also called the settlor or trustor, the grantor is the individual who transfers property to a trustee.
  • Guardian: An individual, bank, or company, with the authority to distribute assets for the benefit of a minor child or an incapacitated person.
  • Income: The returns from the property in your trust, including interest, dividends, and rents, are considered income.
  • Inter-vivos trust: A lifetime trust in which you are both the trustee and beneficiary is called an inter-vivos trust.
  • Intestate: When someone dies without a valid will, they are said to die intestate. Their assets are distributed according to state intestacy laws, which generally award property to the closest living relative.
  • Probate: The court supervised process of providing the validity of a will and distributing assets according to its terms is called probate. Probate can be time consuming and expensive, but proper estate planning can reduce or eliminate the need for this process.
  • Testator: The person who has had a valid will prepared to distribute their assets is called a testator. Sometimes, a female is called a testatrix.
  • Testamentary Trust: A trust established by someone else to benefit you at their death.
  • Trustee: Trustees are individuals or bank or trust companies that hold the legal title to assets for the benefit of others. They must act according to the terms of the trust to distribute assets and income.
  • Principal: The property or capital included in an estate or trust.

How Can We Help?

If you are in need of legal representation relating to an estate planning issue, please call our office at (626) 683-8113 or email us at Our experienced Pasadena estate planning attorneys can help you evaluate your options and create an estate plan that best addresses your unique needs.