Learn common estate planning terms.If you are dealing with a loved one’s estate—or are taking steps to begin making your own estate plan—you are probably coming across terminology you’ve never heard before. Not understanding the language makes it that much harder to gather the information you need to make important decisions.

We have compiled this glossary of common terms used in successions and estate planning to help you get started on your legal journey.

Estate and Probate Legal Jargon

The following are terms you may need to know as you handle a succession or begin an estate plan in Louisiana:

Administrator. The person approved by the court to handle an intestate succession.

Advanced medical directive. A document in which a person nominates an agent or surrogate to make medical decisions when the person is unable to do so.

Beneficiary. A person who will receive the benefit of property from an estate or trust.

Charitable trust. A trust created as part of an estate plan that distributes assets to a charity according to the decedent’s wishes.

Codicil. A formal document that changes the terms of a will so that a complete rewriting of the will is not necessary.

Decedent. The legal term used for the person who has passed away.

Estate. The term used to describe the assets and liabilities that someone has when they die.

Estate planning. The process of working with an attorney to plan for the protection of assets and the transfer of an estate after death. 

Estate tax. A tax imposed on the transfer of property from a decedent to his or her heirs or beneficiaries. 

Executor. The person approved by the court to handle a testate succession.

Guardianship. Court proceedings initiated to supervise the management of the personal affairs of a minor child or a disabled or incapacitated adult. 

Heir. The person who inherits from the decedent in an intestate succession.

Immovable asset. This term commonly refers to the property included in an estate that cannot be physically moved, such as real estate or gas & oil rights.

Incapacitated. The state of not having the legal competence to perform a given act.

Intestate. The type of succession when the decedent did not have a Last Will & Testament.

Last Will & Testament. A legal document that communicates a person's final wishes pertaining to possessions and dependents. May be referred to as a will or a testament in Louisiana.

Legatee. The person who inherits from the decedent in a testate succession.

Living will. A document used to express your wishes for healthcare treatment and end-of-life decisions in the event that you become unable to communicate.

Movable asset. The property included in an estate that can be physically moved, such as vehicles, furniture, jewelry, and other possessions.

Partition action. Legal petition of the court asking for inherited real estate to be sold and the proceeds distributed to heirs.

Pour-over will. Used in conjunction with a trust estate to account for the distribution of any assets that are not included in the trust.

Power of attorney. A legal document naming a representative to make financial or healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated.

Probate. The process of presenting a Last Will & Testament to a court to be recognized, also known as succession in Louisiana.

Special needs trust. A trust established to provide supplemental support for a disabled person while allowing for eligibility for Medicaid or Medicare.

Succession. The legal process by which property is transferred from a decedent to the heirs. In Louisiana, a succession can take several forms:

  • Simple possession. If the estate does not have creditors who want administration, does not owe estate taxes, and all the heirs accept the succession unconditionally, succession can often be opened and closed on the same day.
  • Small succession. When the gross value of a decedent’s property and other assets are less than $75,000 at the time of death, this fairly simple process can be used.
  • Full succession. If there are open questions or disputes, the estate may require court administration and the appointment of a succession representative (executor).
  • Ancillary succession. This court proceeding is required whenever a non-Louisiana resident would receive the title or an interest in an immovable asset (e.g., real property, oil and gas rights) located in Louisiana.

Testate. The type of succession when the decedent has a Last Will & Testament.

Trust. A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, known as the trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary. There are many different kinds of trusts that can specify exactly how and when the assets pass to the beneficiaries.

Usufruct. Similar to a life estate in other states, a usufruct is a right by one person over the property of another. Usufructs usually apply to Louisiana intestate law dealing with community property.

You Don’t Have to Figure it All Out Alone!

We hope this glossary helps you get a basic understanding of what you’re dealing with when a family member dies or you're creating your own estate plan, but you do not have to do this by yourself. Contact Scott Vicknair Law, Estate & Probate Division, to find out what we can do to make the process easier for you.