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LEGAL TERMS

SUMMARY PROBATE

A relatively simple probate proceeding available for 'small estates,' as that term is defined by state law. Every state's definition is different, and many are ... (more...)
A relatively simple probate proceeding available for 'small estates,' as that term is defined by state law. Every state's definition is different, and many are complicated, but a few examples include estates worth up to $100,000 in California; New York estates where property, excluding real estate and amounts that must be set aside for surviving family members, is worth $20,000 or less; and Texas estates where the value of property doesn't exceed what is needed to pay a family allowance and certain creditors.

SURVIVING SPOUSE'S TRUST

If a couple has created an AB trust, the revocable living trust (Trust B) of the surviving spouse, after the first spouse has died.

SUCCESSION

The passing of property or legal rights after death. The word commonly refers to the distribution of property under a state's intestate succession laws, which d... (more...)
The passing of property or legal rights after death. The word commonly refers to the distribution of property under a state's intestate succession laws, which determine who inherits property when someone dies without a valid will. When used in connection with real estate, the word refers to the passing of property by will or inheritance, as opposed to gift, grant, or purchase.

LIVING TRUST

A trust you can set up during your life. Living trusts are an excellent way to avoid the cost and hassle of probate because the property you transfer into the t... (more...)
A trust you can set up during your life. Living trusts are an excellent way to avoid the cost and hassle of probate because the property you transfer into the trust during your life passes directly to the trust beneficiaries after you die, without court involvement. The successor trustee--the person you appoint to handle the trust after your death--simply transfers ownership to the beneficiaries you named in the trust. Living trusts are also called 'inter vivos trusts.'

PROBATE

The court process following a person's death that includes proving the authenticity of the deceased person's will appointing someone to handle the deceased pers... (more...)
The court process following a person's death that includes proving the authenticity of the deceased person's will appointing someone to handle the deceased person's affairs identifying and inventorying the deceased person's property paying debts and taxes identifying heirs, and distributing the deceased person's property according to the will or, if there is no will, according to state law. Formal court-supervised probate is a costly, time-consuming process -- a windfall for lawyers -- which is best avoided if possible.

BEQUEATH

A legal term sometimes used in wills that means 'leave' -- for example, 'I bequeath my garden tools to my brother-in-law, Buster Jenkins.'

AUGMENTED ESTATE

In general terms, an augmented estate consists of property owned by both a deceased person and his or her spouse. The concept of the augmented estate is used on... (more...)
In general terms, an augmented estate consists of property owned by both a deceased person and his or her spouse. The concept of the augmented estate is used only in some states. Its value is calculated only if a surviving spouse declines whatever he or she was left by will and instead claims a share of the deceased spouse's estate. (This is called taking against the will.) The amount of this 'statutory share' or 'elective share' depends on state law.

SELF-PROVING WILL

A will that is created in a way that allows a probate court to easily accept it as the true will of the person who has died. In most states, a will is self-prov... (more...)
A will that is created in a way that allows a probate court to easily accept it as the true will of the person who has died. In most states, a will is self-proving when two witnesses sign under penalty of perjury that they observed the willmaker sign it and that he told them it was his will. If no one contests the validity of the will, the probate court will accept the will without hearing the testimony of the witnesses or other evidence. To make a self-proving will in other states, the willmaker and one or more witnesses must sign an affidavit (sworn statement) before a notary public certifying that the will is genuine and that all willmaking formalities have been observed.

GENERATION-SKIPPING TRUST

A trust designed to save on estate tax. The trust principal is preserved for the trust maker's grandchildren, with his or her children receiving only income fro... (more...)
A trust designed to save on estate tax. The trust principal is preserved for the trust maker's grandchildren, with his or her children receiving only income from the trust. Because the children (the middle generation) never legally own the property, it isn't subject to estate tax at their death. See generation-skipping transfer tax.

SAMPLE LEGAL CASES

Dodge v. Randolph-Macon Woman's College

... The Attorney General shall have the same authority to act on behalf of the public with respect to such assets as he has with respect 808 to assets held by unincorporated charitable trusts and other charitable entities, including the authority to seek such judicial relief as may be ...

Ladysmith Rescue Squad, Inc. v. Newlin

... At that point, the trustees, the two surviving income beneficiaries and Upper Caroline (the moving parties) moved the court to authorize the trustees to divide the trust into two equal trusts, to be called the "Upper Caroline Trust" and the "Ladysmith Trust." Ladysmith objected to the ...

RUSSELL REALTY ASSOCIATES v. Russell

... The partnership interests were held by Charles Russell, Eddie, individually, and Eddie and Nina as co-trustees of the trusts created for the benefit of Nina and her two sons. Between 1978 and 1985, Charles Russell decreased his partnership interest. ...