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Alphabetical Listing
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
A
A/B Trust Combination

The joint use of a marital trust (also called an "A" trust) and a bypass trust (also called a "B" trust) to take advantage of the unlimited marital deduction and help reduce potential estate tax liability. At the death of one spouse, his or her will establishes a bypass trust with an amount equal to the current federal estate tax exemption. Any amount in excess of the current federal estate tax exemption goes into a marital trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse. This approach allows couples to take advantage of both spouses' estate tax exemption and helps to minimize the federal taxes for large estates.

Advance Health Care Directive

A legal document that clearly explains your health care preferences to your physician and family members. It should specify the kinds of medical treatment you want—or don't want—at the end of your life. This may include your preference on everything from testing and surgical procedures to cardiopulmonary resuscitation and organ donation. Be aware that your state of legal residence may have specific requirements to make your directives binding, so you should consult with your estate planning attorney.

Ancillary Probate

Probate proceedings conducted in a different state from the deceased person's legal state of residence. Ancillary probate proceedings generally are held if the deceased person owned real estate in another state.

B
Beneficiary Designations

 

You designate beneficiaries when you choose individuals or organizations to take specified assets upon your death. Assets with beneficiary designations may include IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans, life insurance, and annuity contracts. A beneficiary designation for an asset overrides any provisions in your will concerning the asset, as long as the beneficiary survives you. To establish beneficiary designations, you typically complete a form provided by the institution that holds the account or policy.

Bypass Trust (also called a "B" trust)

This trust (also called a "family" or "credit shelter" or "B" trust) is generally used in combination with a marital trust to help save on estate taxes. Upon death, the bypass trust is funded with up to the then-current estate tax exemption amount. The trust can provide income to a surviving spouse and/or other family members during the spouse's lifetime. Subject to certain restrictions, you may also grant the trustee the power to distribute trust principal for particular needs of your spouse and/or other beneficiaries. If properly structured, the assets in the trust would not be included in the surviving spouse's estate at his or her death. (Also see Marital Trust, A/B Trust Combination, and Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) Trust.)

C
Charitable Remainder Trust

This trust is designed to provide an income stream to one or more beneficiaries for a specific period of time or for a lifetime, with the remainder passing to a charity or charities of your choice. While there are tax benefits to creating this type of a trust, the trust must be irrevocable and follow strict rules set forth by the IRS. The two types of charitable remainder trusts are charitable remainder annuity trusts and charitable remainder unitrusts. The annuity trust returns a fixed dollar amount to the donor or other beneficiary designated by the donor, while the unitrust pays out a percentage of the trust's value (as redetermined). This can be a hedge against inflation assuming the trust assets increase in value, but unlike the fixed payments from a charitable remainder annuity trust, if the investments in a unitrust decline in value, your annual payment also would decrease.

Community Property

Community property states are states in which some or all of the assets earned and accumulated during your marriage may be deemed to be "community property," regardless of title. Community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

D
Durable Power of Attorney

With this written document, you grant another person (a member of your family, a trusted acquaintance, an institution, or an attorney) power to manage your affairs, particularly in the event of your incapacity or incompetency. This person is sometimes referred to as your "agent" or your "attorney-in-fact." The powers that the attorney-in-fact has are specified in the document and may be broad in scope (e.g., management of all financial and legal affairs) or narrow (e.g., take actions necessary to sell a specific piece of property) according your wishes as the principal.

E
Executor

 

An executor (sometimes called an administrator or personal representative) is a person or an institution (like a bank) that you appoint in your will to carry out its provisions. If you die without a will or no executor named in your will survives you, a court appoints one for you to handle the assets that are subject to probate. An executor named in a will may choose not to act or may not be allowed to assume the role in some states if they are not a legal resident of that state. Make sure to account for these contingencies when selecting an executor.

Some typical duties of an executor include:

  • Locating all of your assets that are subject to probate;
  • Paying any outstanding debts you may have from your assets;
  • Preparing any reports required by the probate court;
  • Filing a final income tax return for you (or your surviving spouse can file jointly);
  • Filing a fiduciary income tax return for the estate, if applicable;
  • Paying all taxes and final expenses from your assets; and
  • Distributing the assets remaining in your estate according to the instructions in your will.
F
Federal Estate Tax Exemption

Also known as the "estate tax exemption equivalent amount", this is the total amount per deceased person that can be transferred to individuals free of any estate tax (there is no limit on what can be left to a spouse who is a U.S. citizen). The exemption for 2011 and 2012 is $5 million and is scheduled to change in 2013 to $1 million, unless Congress intervenes. Also, the federal estate tax exemption amount is reduced by the total of any taxable gifts made during the deceased's lifetime. In calculating the size of the deceased's taxable estate, several deductions are available that may reduce the amount of the estate subject to federal estate taxes, such as the unlimited marital and unlimited charitable estate tax deductions.

G
Gift Tax

For 2011, you can make a gift of up to $13,000 to any person (and to as many individuals as you would like) without having to use any of your lifetime gift tax exemption. This amount tends to vary from year to year. If you exceed this amount to any one individual in 2011, the excess may be considered a taxable gift, and you will have to file IRS forms. However, you still may not owe any federal taxes unless your cumulative taxable gifts throughout your lifetime exceed the personal $5 million or, if you are married, up to $10 million. Note that a married couple can gift twice as much, or $26,000 per year, between them to any one person.

Guardian

 

A guardian is an individual who manages and cares for the property and/or physical well-being of a minor. If you have children, you typically would name a guardian for them in your will. Some parents prefer to name one individual to be guardian of their child's physical care (a "guardian of the person") and another individual (or institution) to be guardian or custodian of their child's property/financial assets (a "guardian of the estate"). For an adult who becomes incompetent to care for his or her financial and/or physical well-being, a court may be petitioned to appoint a guardian (or conservator) if there is no person to step in under a durable power of attorney.

H
I
Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

Such a trust is created and funded to help avoid estate taxes on the benefits paid by your life insurance policy(ies) on your own life. Death benefits from life insurance can inflate the size of your taxable estate. By placing existing policies in an irrevocable trust or having the trustee purchase the policies in the first place, the insurance death benefits would not be taxable in your estate (providing certain conditions are met) since the IRS deems that you do not have control over these assets. Because the trust is irrevocable and the IRS imposes strict rules for this type of trust, it is important to talk to your estate planning attorney before proceeding.

J
Joint Tenancy With Rights of Survivorship (WROS)

 

This is ownership of assets with your spouse or other person(s) with rights of survivorship. If you die first, your share of the assets passes automatically to the person(s) with whom you own the assets and vice versa.

K
L
Life Insurance

A contract between an insurance company and a policyholder in which the company agrees to pay a predetermined amount to the policy's designated beneficiary upon the death of the insured person in exchange for paying the insurance premiums. Life insurance is mainly purchased to provide for a person, family, or business dependent on your income. The insured may or may not be the policyholder who pays the premiums on the life insurance policy.

Lifetime Gift Tax Exemption

Also known as the lifetime gift tax exemption equivalent amount, this is the total amount per donor that can be transferred to others (other than the spouse) - over and above the amount of any gifts made that year that are eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion ($13,000 per recipient). The exemption for 2011 and 2012 is $5 million and is scheduled to change in 2013 to $1 million unless Congress intervenes. Also, to the extent that you make taxable gifts during your lifetime, the federal estate tax exemption amount for your estate will be reduced in an equivalent amount. Bear in mind that gifts to spouses and charities are not deemed to be taxable gifts and that special rules apply to spouses who are non-US citizens.

The total gifts made that exceed the exemption amount while the donor is living will be counted against your personal $5 million or joint $10 million lifetime exemption amount and any excess gift will be taxed, depending on its value, up to 35% of the value of the gift. Please be aware that certain states also apply gift taxes and may have different annual exclusion amounts than the $13,000 described above.

M
Marital Trust (also called an "A" trust)

This trust is usually funded with any amount in excess of a person's available federal estate tax exemption amount. Usually the money is left in the trust for the spouse for investment and financial management purposes, and the spouse must have the right to receive income from the trust during his or her lifetime. The surviving spouse is also granted a general power of appointment to provide him or her with the flexibility to modify the way assets will be distributed at his or her death, including naming new beneficiaries. Unlike assets in a bypass trust, the assets in a marital trust are included in the surviving spouse's taxable estate. (Also see Bypass Trust.)

N
O
P
Payable on Death (POD)

 

This is a type of beneficiary designation where you specify one or more beneficiaries to inherit certain assets, like bank accounts, automatically upon your death. This must be arranged with the institution that holds the account.

Per Capita

This term describes how certain assets are to be distributed at your death. A per capita designation generally divides an asset equally among only the beneficiaries specified who survive you. If one of the beneficiaries passes away before you, his or her share goes to the other beneficiaries listed.

Per Stirpes

This term describes how certain assets are to be distributed at your death. When you name your beneficiaries per stirpes, in the event that one of the beneficiaries predeceases you, his or her share of the assets generally passes to his or her heirs, not to other beneficiaries listed.

Pour-Over Will

A pour-over will works in combination with a revocable living trust. It instructs your executor to "pour over" assets not already in the trust at the time of your death into the trust. Your trustee will then distribute them as directed in your trust agreement. Assets added to a trust after your death by virtue of a pour-over will do not avoid probate. However, the pour-over will/trust combination typically affords increased privacy, since details on the disposition of your estate reside in the trust agreement, which in most states does not have to be filed with the probate court.

Probate

A court-supervised process beginning after your death to determine the validity of your will and monitor the execution of its provisions. Assets that would go through probate typically are those that you own individually (or as a tenant in common) and for which there are no beneficiary designations. Assets owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, with beneficiary designations, or titled in the name of an existing trust are designed to pass to others directly outside of your will and the probate process.

Q
Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) Trust

A QTIP trust is a variation of the marital trust. The surviving spouse has the right to receive income from the trust while he or she is alive, then, at the spouse's death, leaves any remaining trust assets, after payment of estate taxes, to the beneficiaries the spouse designated in the trust. A QTIP trust may be especially effective when you have remarried and the intended beneficiaries after the death of your spouse's death are your children from the prior marriage.

R
Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust holds property and other assets that you transfer to it and can be changed or rescinded during your lifetime, whereas the terms and conditions of an irrevocable trust generally cannot be altered once you create the trust. While assets in a revocable living trust avoid probate, the assets are considered part of your taxable estate.

S
Solely Owned Assets

An asset you own by yourself. The assets passes according to your will or the laws of your legal state of residence if you do not have a will.

T
Tenants in Common

While jointly owned assets more typically are held with rights of survivorship, sometimes they are jointly held instead as tenants in common. In this situation, your share of the assets passes to your heirs according to your will or the laws of your legal state of residence and not automatically to the surviving joint owner(s) of the assets.

Testamentary Trust

A trust that comes into existence after your death (as opposed to a revocable living trust) and is commonly created under your will or under your revocable living trust. Its term is generally for as long as that document stipulates, within certain limits (e.g., for a spouse's lifetime or for a certain number of years). For example, a couple with minor or young adult children may list each other as the primary beneficiary under each of their wills and their children as the contingent beneficiaries, but then also specify that a trust should be created for the children's benefit in the event both parents are deceased. The terms could then specify how money is to be used for them and at what ages and/or upon what events a child is to inherit any assets directly.

Transfer on Death (TOD)

This is a type of beneficiary designation where you specify one or more beneficiaries to inherit certain assets, like mutual fund accounts, automatically upon your death. This must be arranged with the institution that holds the account.

Trustee

The trustee is an individual or an institution, such as a bank, that manages assets held in a trust for the beneficiary(ies) of the trust. The responsibilities of a trustee managing a trust upon your death generally are to:

  • Identify assets in the trust;
  • Manage the addition of any assets to the trust by your executor according to the terms of your will;
  • Invest the assets in the trust created; and
  • Distribute the assets outright to your beneficiaries and/or continue the trust or establish any new trust as specified in the trust documents.
U
Unlimited Charitable Deduction

Gifts to qualified charities are deductible for estate tax purposes if you leave assets to a charity outright by your will or trust or through a charitable remainder trust. These bequests can result in an estate tax deduction for either the amount of the bequest or the projected remainder amount in the trust that will ultimately go to charity.

Unlimited Marital Deduction

If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you may leave an unlimited amount to your spouse estate tax-free. Special rules apply for non-U.S. citizens. Gifts made to your spouse during your lifetime are also gift tax-free.

 

V
W
X
Y
Z
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