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Minnesota Estate Planning Glossary

Estate planning can be a confusing topic, especially because of the legalese that has been developed over centuries to describe its subject. Presented here is a glossary that defines some of the unique words used in the field, as they apply to the law in Minnesota.


Administrator/Administratrix: The person nominated by a Will or appointed by a court to wrap up a person's estate when they die. This is the person that works with the attorney during probate. Called a Personal Representative in Minnesota.

Annual Exclusion: The amount of money that can be given annually to and individual or any number of persons free of gift tax. The amount currently is $13,000 for an individual, or $26,000 for a husband and wife.

Annuity: A right to receive fixed payments periodically for a specific duration.

Assets: All the property of a person available for paying debts or for distribution.

Beneficiary: A person designated to receive something through a Will.

Bequest: Property given to a person in a Will.

Codicil: A supplement or addition to a Will, modifying, explaining or otherwise qualifying the Will in some way. It becomes part of the Will during probate.

Conservator: A person appointed by a court to conserve another person's assets because they are either a minor or are incapacitated.

Corpus: Trust property; the principal property not including interest or income.

Death Tax: Another term for estate tax. In 2010 there is no federal estate tax, and estates valued at less than $1,000,000 in Minnesota do not owe an estate tax.

Decedent: A person who has died.

Devise: A provision in a Will giving property as a gift. Can also refer to the property itself.

Domicile: The place that a person regards as home; a person's true, fixed, principal and permanent home, to which that person intends to return and remain even though they may be currently residing somewhere else.

Donee: The person receiving a gift.

Donor: The person making a gift.

Durable Power of Attorney: A power of attorney that remains in effect during the grantor's incompetency.

Escheat: When a person's property goes to the state because there are no identifiable living relatives of the person who has died.

Estate: The property that one leaves after death. The collective assets and liabilities of a dead person.

Estate Tax: A tax imposed on property transferred by Will or by intestate succession.

Exempt Property: Certain property in an estate that a surviving spouse or children is entitled to over the claims of creditors.

Executor/Executrix: A person appointed by a Will to wind up the estate when the testator dies. In Minnesota this person is called the Personal Representative.

Family Allowance: A reasonable family allowance paid out of the estate to a surviving spouse or dependant children.

Fiduciary: A person who owes to another the duties of good faith, trust, confidence, and candor.

Formal Probate: A probate proceeding presided over by a judge.

Gross Estate: For federal estate tax purposes, the total value of all property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, that the person who dies owned or had control over at the time of death.

Guardian: A person appointed by a court to take care of a person who is determined to be incapacitated either because of age or health. The Guardian takes care of the person itself, and the Conservator takes care of the property.

Heir: A person who, under the laws of intestacy, is entitled to receive an intestate decedent's property.

Holographic Will: A handwritten Will.

Informal Probate: A probate proceeding presided over by a county registrar.

Inter Vivos Trust: A Trust that is created and takes effect during the settlor's lifetime.

Intestate: Of or relating to a person who had died without a valid Will.

Intestate Succession: The method used to distribute property owned by a person who dies without a valid Will.

Irrevocable Trust: A Trust that cannot be terminated by the Settlor once it is created.

Joint Tenancy: A manner of holding title to real estate or personal property where in the event of death, the deceased joint tenant's interest in the jointly held property passes to the surviving joint tenant by right of survivorship.

Life Estate: An estate held only for the duration of a specified person's life, usually the person possessing the property.

Lineal Descendant: One who is, by blood relationship, in the direct line of descent from an ancestor.

Marital Deduction: Allows married persons to transform unlimited assets to the surviving spouse after the death of the first spouse without an estate tax.

Pay on Death (POD): Designation is the naming of a beneficiary to receive an account balance on a party's death.

Personal Representative: A person named in a Will or appointed by the district court to administer the estate of a decedent. Formerly referred to as executor or administrator.

Pour-over Will: A will used in conjunction with a living trust whose primary purpose is to transfer any assets that are in the decedent's probate estate from the probate estate into the living trust. 

Power of Attorney: A written, notarized document in which one person gives another the power to conduct certain actions on their behalf.

Probate: A court controlled process where title to certain assets of a decedent pass to devisees or heirs of the estate, subject to expenses, funeral costs, taxes, and claims of creditors.

Remainderman: A person entitled to the remainder of a life estate after a particular reserved right or interest has expired.

Revocable Trust: An inter vivos trust that is subject to amendment or revocation by the settlor. Primarily used to avoid probate, guardianship and conservatorship actions, and to maintain the settlor's privacy both during and after their lifetime. Usually contains the same provisions as a Will for the disposition of the grantor's estate upon the grantor's death.

Right of Election: The surviving spouse's right to a share of the augmented estate rather than accepting the amount provided by Will or intestate succession statute. The percentage is based on the length of marriage.

Settlor: The person setting up a Trust.

Succession Law: A law that determines who receives the property of someone who doesn't have a Will.

Testamentary: Pertaining to a Will.

Testamentary Trust: A trust that is a part of a Will. It becomes effective upon the death of the testator.

Testator: Person making a Will.

Transfer on Death Deed (TODD): A new kind of deed in Minnesota that allows a person to transfer property upon their death.

Trust: A property interest held by one person (the trustee) at the request of another (the settlor) for the benefit of a third party (the beneficiary).

Trustee: A peron who has legal titled to property, and who holds it in trust for the benefit of another.

Trustor: One who creates a Trust, also known as a Settlor.

Will: A document by which a person directs his or her estate to be distributed upon death.

Witness: One who vouches for the authenticity of another's signature by signing an instrument that the other has signed.






If you have any questions about these or about anything else, please contact a Minnesota estate planning attorney today.