Wills, Trusts, and Probate: Essential Terms You Need to Know

by | Apr 13, 2023

When it comes to estate planning, understanding the terminology is crucial. Many people may feel overwhelmed or confused by legal jargon, but it's essential to know what certain terms mean to ensure that you're making informed decisions. In this article, we'll go over some of the essential terms you need to know when it comes to wills, trusts, and probate.

What is a Will?

A will is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets to be distributed after you pass away. It's also where you can name guardians for your children or pets and an executor to carry out your wishes. Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to state laws, which may not align with your preferences.

What is a Trust?

A trust is a legal entity that holds assets for the benefit of one or more people. There are many different types of trusts, but the most common is a revocable living trust. This type of trust allows you to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust while still maintaining control over them during your lifetime. It also enables your assets to avoid probate, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of settling an estate after someone passes away. It involves proving the validity of a will, identifying and inventorying the deceased person's assets, paying off any debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs. Probate can be a complicated and time-consuming process, and it's often best to avoid it if possible by creating a will or trust.

Estate Taxes

Estate taxes are taxes that are levied on the transfer of assets from one person to another after death. Not all estates are subject to estate taxes, but it's essential to understand the rules to ensure that your assets are distributed as you intend.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that grants someone else the authority to make decisions on your behalf if you're unable to do so. This can include decisions about your health care, finances, or other important matters.

Advanced Healthcare Directives

An advanced healthcare directive is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding medical treatment if you're unable to make decisions for yourself. It can include instructions about life support, resuscitation, and other medical interventions.


Estate planning can be a complex and overwhelming process, but understanding the terminology is essential. By knowing these essential terms, you'll be better equipped to make informed decisions about your assets and your future. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your options and create a plan that aligns with your wishes.