Here are some common terms you may come across when managing the deceased’s affairs.
Immediate aftermath of death
Administrator: A person appointed by the court to manage the assets and liabilities of a deceased who has died without a Will. This is different from the Executor, who is named in the deceased’s Will to manage their estate.
Advance Directive: The deceased’s written wishes regarding medical treatment made to ensure those wishes are carried out in the event the person is unable to communicate them to a doctor (often includes a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care).
Certified/Original Death Certificate: Legal document which proves the death. It has a raised seal, will show the signature of the State Registrar, and will be printed on security paper.
Coroner: The person who confirms and certifies the death of an individual.
Deceased or Decedent: The person who died.
Designated Agent: The person tasked by the deceased to take care of funeral/memorial arrangements.
Executor/Executrix: The person designated by the deceased to carry out their final wishes (usually the spouse). If there is no Will or no one is mentioned, then the person appointed is referred to as the Administrator.
Funeral: The service before the body is buried or cremated.
Graveside Service: A funeral that only takes place at the grave site.
Inurnment: The placing of the urn, containing ashes of the deceased, into their final resting place.
Internment: It’s another name for a burial.
Letter of Instruction, Final Instructions, or Disposition Authorization: Written instructions for funeral or memorial service arrangements, and burial or cremation arrangements.
Memorial Service: The service after the body has been buried or cremated.
Mortuary: Place where the body is held until burial/cremation, typically the funeral home.
Handling the deceased’s assets
Annuity: A type of investment where an individual pays a life insurance company a lump sum at the start and then gets paid back in increments over some future period.
Asset: Any item that adds value to the deceased’s estate or your personal financial situation (i.e. property, car, stocks).
Beneficiary: A person who receives money or property, such as from a deceased’s life insurance policy, retirement pension, or annuity.
Contestability Clause: A short period of time, usually 1-2 years, in which insurance companies can investigate and deny claims.
Dying Intestate: Dying without a will.
Employee Identification Number or Tax ID: A number given to an organization or trust by the IRS. Think of it as a social security number for a company.
Estate: The net worth of a person at any point in time alive or dead. It includes all the property the person owns (jewelry, property, land, retirement, etc.).
Fiduciary: A person who has a legal or ethical responsibility to hold your financial best interests in mind (example: financial planner)
Grantor in a Trust: The person who sets up a trust and adds assets to it.
Individual Retirement Account (IRA): A retirement account where the money is not taxed until taken out.
Irrevocable Trust and Revocable Trust: When a person submits assets to an irrevocable trust, they lose the ability to modify them without permission of the benefactor. A revocable trust allows the person submitting assets to modify the trust.
Joint tenants with rights of survivorship. A way of owning property where both people are listed as owners. Upon death of one of the owners, accounts held jointly in this way will automatically belong to the surviving owner. These properties do not need to go through probate. This is common with spouses.
Living Trust: A legal document that says who can manage and distribute your property if you are unable, and who receives it when you die. It’s called a living trust because it’s written while you are still alive.
Petition: A formal request made by a lawyer to a court.
Settling an Estate: The process of paying a deceased’s debts and taxes and distributing their estate among survivors.
Testator: The person who wrote the Will (usually the deceased).
Trust: A legal term used for assets that are held by a trustee until able to be given to a beneficiary.
Trustee: The person responsible for managing the Trust.
Power of Attorney or Attorney-In-Fact or Agent: A written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter, sometimes against the wishes of the other. This role becomes obsolete upon death. Then, the Designated Agent has the authority to make funeral or memorial arrangements, as well as burial or cremation arrangements. However, many insurance companies still want a copy of the Power of Attorney.
Probate: The process where a legal court distributes your estate. If you have a Will, the court will distribute according to that.
Probate Court: A court which primarily handles matters relating to Wills and estates.
Proof of Representation or Letter of Appointment of Executor: This refers to either the person who becomes the authorized representative of the deceased (sometimes called “Executor” or “Executrix”) or the document given to this representative. The document must be authorized by a court.
Small Estate Affidavit: A document given to the court that allows a small estate to be transferred to the heir without going through probate. State laws determine what qualifies as a small estate.
Successor Trustee: Person who assumes authority of a trust after the trustee dies, similar to an executor.
Transfer on Death: A designation put on property and that allows the transfer of those assets without going through probate. This is the easiest way to pass assets from the deceased to an heir; we highly recommend doing it in your estate planning.
Will: Legal document that outlines who should get the deceased’s property/assets and how they should be distributed.