Testate, intestate, heirs, beneficiaries, probate…the terms used in estate planning can be complicated and confusing.
Which is why it can be very helpful to have a basic understanding of some of the more important terms used in inheritance and estate planning.
Here are 4 important terms that you should know when it comes to inheritance.
This is the first word you should familiarize yourself with because the decedent is the most important person in any estate planning/probate scenario. The “decedent” is the deceased—or dead person.
It is his/her estate that will be the subject of the probate proceedings which are concerned with distributing the decedent’s property either according to his/her wishes (according to his/her trust or Last Will and Testament), or according to law (i.e., intestacy).
Not to be confused with the decedent above, the “descendant” is another very important person in the entire scheme of inheritance.
A descendant is a (most times, very much alive) relative of the deceased who may be entitled to inherit the decedent’s property. A descendant is very often a child or grandchild of the descendent.
A descendant is literally the progeny of the decedent.
An “heir” is also someone who can inherit from the decedent.
However, unlike a “descendant,” an heir can be either a person in the direct line of descent or can be someone designated to inherit when there is no Last Will and Testament (“Will”).
In cases where the decedent does not leave a Will, his or her heirs are determined according to the state’s intestacy laws.
- Per Stirpes
Latin for “by roots,” stock, or representation, per stirpes is a legal term that describes how a person’s money and property will be left to his/her heirs and beneficiaries.
Basically, per stirpes is a way of deciding how you want your intestate estate to be distributed to your beneficiaries in the event they should die before you but they themselves leave heirs.
So, for example, if you choose to leave your assets to your children and one of them dies before you do, a per stirpes distribution would distribute your child’s share evenly to his or her children.
Developing an effective and comprehensive estate plan takes time, a thorough understanding of the law and careful analysis. Do yourself a favor and be sure to consult with an experienced estate and probate lawyer.
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