When a loved one or relative dies it can be a very sad and difficult time for everyone involved.  Things can get complicated very quickly if the deceased person did not leave a valid will.  The death of someone close to us is usually an infrequent occurrence, and can seem overwhelming and confusing to us in our time of bereavement. However, good planning prior to death can ease some of the pain of losing a loved one that is felt by those we leave behind. It is important not only to have an estate plan (which wills are a part of) in place, but also to understand how it all works and update as situations change. Having a better understanding of some of the terms can make this time seem a little less difficult.

Wills Terminology: What does it mean?

The legal language can sometimes sound daunting and scary, especially to those who hardly ever have any dealings in legal issues. Here are a few terms that will likely come up as you are dealing with the death of a loved one or family member. An experienced attorney can also help you understand how these terms affect your wishes.

  • The person who writes the document is the testator; he or she has also passed away, making them the deceased.
  • The person who is named to receive something left to him or her is the beneficiary.
  • Items given in wills are bequeathed.
  • The executor is the person either named in the will or appointed by the probate court to oversee the execution of the estate.
  • When property or money is willed to a minor, a custodian is a person named to manage the property until the minor comes of age.
  • When there is no valid will, a person who inherits money or property under state law from the deceased is an heir.
  • A person who is a direct descendent of the deceased is called issue, and includes children, grandchildren, etc.
  • A legatee inherits personal property; the gift of personal property at death is a legacy.
  • Someone who inherits real property (i.e., land) is a devisee; the gift of real property at death is a devise.

Why Wills are Important

Wills are the best form of estate planning available since it allows your wishes to be recorded and carried out the way that you want them to be. When there is no valid will, state laws apply to the deceased person’s estate and property is distributed according to a hierarchy of beneficiaries. It is best to consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer to ensure that the prepared document is valid, unambiguous and properly executed.  Preparing for when you are no longer around can have immense benefits for those you leave behind. Not only can valid wills provide a safety net for your loved ones after your death, but good estate planning can help maximize the value of your assets and minimize the tax implications of your death. A good estate plan makes the administration process of your estate easier and can save your family and loved ones money.