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Client Information

Welcome to the Client Information page. Potential clients will find the estate planning questionnaires, and other useful information such as an Estate Planning Glossary and client alerts here. Please check back often for updates.

Estate Planning Questionnaires

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Legal Glossary

Legal Terms Glossary Pertaining to Trust and Estate Law

  • Will: A written instrument that permits a person (the testator) to make decisions regarding the management and distribution of his or her estate after his or her death. The primary purpose of a will is to dispose of a person's probate assets. A will may also appoint a guardian for the testator's minor children, appoint an executor, trustee or other fiduciary, and provide for the payment of debts, taxes and other expenses by the estate.
    • Codicil: A written document that amends an existing will.
    • Bequest: A gift of personal property in a will.
    • Devise: A gift of real property (real estate) under a will.
    • Decedent: A deceased person.
    • Probate: The legal process by which a will is formally recognized and enforced.
    • Intestate: Without a will.
    • Testator or Testatrix: A man or woman who has made and left a valid will at his or her death.
    • Probate Assets: Property of a decedent that passes to another person or other entity according to (1) the terms of a will or (2) the applicable statutes that apply when a person dies without a will.
    • Non-Probate Assets: Property of a decedent that passes to another person or entity contractually, such as an insurance policy or bank account that names a beneficiary or is owned as "payable on death," property held in living trusts, and property legally held as "jointly owned with right of survivorship."
    • "Pour-Over Will": A will that directs that all of a decedent's assets be transferred to a separate trust when the decedent dies.
  • Estate: The property of a decedent. "Gross estate" refers to everything you own at death, including your individually owned property, your share of jointly held property, pension plans, insurance benefits, etc.
  • Trust: An agreement under which a trustee holds and distributes the assets of the creator of trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries (the people who benefit from the trust) as the creator of the trust directs. A trust can protect assets from the claims of creditors and can have advantageous tax consequences for the settlor and/or the beneficiaries.
    • Settlor, Trustor, or Grantor: The person who creates a trust.
    • Beneficiary: The person for whose benefit a trust is created or to whom an asset, such as an insurance policy, retirement account, or annuity is payable.
    • Amendment: A written instrument that modifies or revises an earlier document (such as a trust).
    • Testamentary Trust (also referred to as a "Trust under Will"): A trust created under the will of a decedent.
    • Revocable Trust or Living Trust: A trust that can be revoked or amended by the settlor. This type of trust offers no transfer tax or income tax savings, but serves as an asset management vehicle during the settlor's life. It can provide a framework to help provide for the settlor if he or she becomes disabled or incompetent. At death, it can serve as a will substitute and govern the disposition of assets that the settlor transferred during life or at his or her death (usually through a pour-over will).
    • Credit Shelter Trust: A trust that is typically created under a decedent's will to hold the amount that can pass free of estate tax (see Applicable Exclusion Amount). A credit shelter trust is usually for a surviving spouse and children; it can pass tax-free to the decedent's children at the surviving spouse's death.
    • Irrevocable Trust: A trust that cannot be amended, revised or modified.
    • Generation-Skipping Trust: A trust with beneficiaries who belong to two or more generations younger than the person creating the trust (the settlor) (see Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax).
    • Insurance Trust: A trust designed to hold a life insurance policy on the settlor and to remove the proceeds of the policy from the settlor's taxable estate.
    • Crummey Trust: A trust designed to receive gifts for certain beneficiaries in a tax-efficient manner by giving such beneficiaries certain withdrawal rights over gifts to the trust.
    • Charitable Trust: A trust created for the benefit of a charitable organization.
    • Charitable Lead Trust: A trust that provides for a periodic payment to charity for a fixed period and then for a distribution of the remaining principal to a noncharitable beneficiary or beneficiaries.
    • Charitable Remainder Trust: A trust that provides for a periodic payment to a noncharitable beneficiary for a fixed period and then for a distribution of the remaining principal to charity.
  • General Power of Attorney: A written instrument under which a person authorizes another person (an Agent) to make various financial or asset management decisions on his or her behalf.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Directive: A written instrument under which a person authorizes another person (a Surrogate) to make health care decisions on his or her behalf.
  • Living Will: A document by which a person states in advance his or her wishes regarding the use or non-use of life-sustaining procedures in the event of a terminal illness or injury.
  • Fiduciary: An individual or entity who has the legal authority and/or obligation to act on behalf of another. The fiduciary duty is characterized by good faith, loyalty, and trust. Executors and trustees are examples of fiduciaries.
    • Executor: The person or organization named in a will to administer the decedent's assets at his or her death and to see that the terms of the will are carried out. The executor's duties include ascertaining what the decedent owned, gathering his or her assets, determining debts and liabilities, and filing the estate tax return and final income tax return. The executor also must make a number of post-mortem tax planning decisions and preserve the estate's assets before they are distributed. This can mean managing those assets, making sure they are appropriately insured, and securing insurance if they are not.
    • Trustee: The individual, bank, or trust company named to administer a trust's assets. The trustee's duties include managing and investing the trust's assets, making appropriate distributions to beneficiaries, and filing the necessary tax returns for the trust.
    • Corporate Fiduciary: A bank or trust company serving in a fiduciary capacity, such as executor, administrator, trustee, or guardian.
    • Corporate Trustee: A trust institution, typically a bank or trust company, serving as a trustee.
    • Agent: See General Power of Attorney
    • Surrogate: See Health Care Power of Attorney
  • Guardian of the Person: An individual appointed by a court to provide care, maintenance, and possibly custody for a minor or an incapacitated person.
  • Guardian of the Estate: An individual or trust institution appointed by a court to handle financial matters for a minor or an incapacitated person.
  • Orphans' Court: The court in Pennsylvania that has exclusive and mandatory jurisdiction over trust, estate, and fiduciary matters. This is the first level of the Pennsylvania court system for such matters, followed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
    • Will Contest: A court proceeding in which someone attempts to prevent the probate of a will or the distribution of property according to the will.
    • Caveat Proceeding: A court proceeding in which someone wishing to contest a will can prevent another person from probating an improperly attained will.
    • Undue Influence: The exertion of any sort of control or coercion by a third party that influences a person to sign a will or other instrument that the person would not have signed without this influence. Evidence of undue influence may result in a court invalidating that will or instrument.
  • Pre-Nuptial Agreement or Pre-Marital Agreement or Antenuptial Agreement: An agreement between two people planning to marry each other regarding their financial arrangements in the event of divorce or either person's death after the marriage is entered into. When this type of agreement is entered into by two spouses (who are already married), it is referred to as a post-nuptial agreement.
  • Federal Transfer Taxes
    • Estate Tax: A federal tax on the transfer of property at death. The value of any taxable estate that exceeds the Applicable Exclusion Amount is subject to this estate tax. The taxable portion of the estate refers to the value of that estate that remains after the executor subtracts allowable expenses, gifts to the surviving spouse that qualify for the marital deduction, and gifts to charity. For 2016, the highest marginal estate tax rate is 40%. The highest estate tax rate was 40% in 2015, 2014 and 2013 and 35% in 2012.
      • Applicable Exclusion Amount: The amount of property a decedent can shelter from estate tax. The Applicable Exclusion Amount consists of a basic exclusion amount ($5,450,000 for 2016, $5,430,000 for 2015, $5,340,000 for 2014, $5,250,000 for 2013, $5,120,000 for 2012 and $5,000,000 for 2011), and in the case of a surviving spouse who died in 2011 or thereafter, the unused exclusion amount of a predeceased spouse (see Portability). Any Lifetime Gift Tax Exemption used during life (see Gift Tax) reduces the exclusion amount available at death.
      • Portability: The ability of a surviving spouse to utilize the unused exclusion amount of his or her most recently deceased spouse. For portability to be available, the deceased spouse must have died after December 31, 2010, and a timely and complete estate tax return must have been filed for the deceased spouse's estate.
    • Gift Tax: A tax on transfers of property by gift during a donor's lifetime, regardless of whether the transfer is outright or in trust. The value of any taxable gift that exceeds the donor's Lifetime Gift Tax Exemption amount is subject to this tax. The taxable portion of the gift refers to the value of the gift that exceeds the Annual Exclusion amount. For 2016, the highest gift tax rate is 40%. The highest gift tax rate was 40% in 2015, 2014 and 2013 and 35% in 2012. Gifts to a spouse or to charity are not subject to this tax.
      • Annual Exclusion: The amount a person can give to another each year free of gift tax. This figure is adjusted periodically for inflation. For 2016, the annual exclusion amount is $14,000 per individual donor or $28,000 for a married couple. This is the same annual exclusion as in 2015, 2014 and 2013. (In 2012, the annual exclusion amount was $13,000 per individual donor, or $26,000 for a married couple)
      • Lifetime Gift Tax Exemption: The total amount of taxable gifts that a person can make during his or her lifetime without being subject to gift tax. The lifetime gift tax exemption is $5,450,000 for 2016. In 2015, it was $5,430,000. It was $5,340,000 for 2014, $5,250,000 for 2013, $5,120,000 for 2012 and $5,000,000 for 2011.
    • Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax or GST Tax: A transfer tax imposed in addition to the estate or gift tax on transfers to certain people, such as grandchildren, regardless of whether the transfer is outright or in trust. The value of the transfer that exceeds the donor's Lifetime GST Exemption is subject to this tax.
      • Lifetime GST Exemption: The total amount of generation-skipping transfers that a person can make during his or her lifetime or at death without being subject to generation-skipping transfer tax. The exemption is $5,450,000 for 2016, $5,430,000 in 2015, $5,340,000 in 2014, $5,250,000 for 2013, $5,120,000 for 2012 and $5,000,000 for 2011.
  • State Death Taxes
    • Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax: A tax imposed on the right to receive property by inheritance. The inheritance tax rate is based on the degree of relation between the decedent and the beneficiary. Property passing to any lineal descendant or a parent of the decedent is taxed at 4.5% (except for transfers from a child under 21 to a parent, which is taxed at 0%). Property passing to other individuals will be taxed at 12% or 15% (depending on the relationship to the decedent). There is no Pennsylvania inheritance tax on property passing to a spouse or to charity.