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Estate Planning Terms to Know

James P. Peterson Attorney at Law April 20, 2022

Preparing a will or thinking of end-of-life care are not particularly fun activities for most people. Many individuals put off estate planning simply because they don’t know much about what the legal process entails. They may also mistakenly believe estate plans are only for the wealthy with many assets. In reality, estate planning is for anyone who owns property, wishes to protect their legacy, and take care of their loved ones upon their disability or death.

Notebook on desk reading Estate Planning with pen

James P. Peterson has over three decades of experience in providing sound, prompt estate planning services for clients. He knows that the topics of trusts, probate, and estate planning are complex to the everyday person. At James P. Peterson Attorney at Law, he guides his clients through the estate planning process, advocating for their best interests every step of the way. His firm proudly serves clients in San Antonio, Boerne, and New Braunfels, Texas.

Estate Planning Terminology

Estate planning is less intimidating when you understand some of the terminology used. Below are terms an estate planning attorney might use and their definitions:


Assets are anything that an individual legally owns, including investments, bank accounts, cars, real estate, art, furniture, jewelry, and some forms of life insurance.


All of a deceased person’s assets make up their estate. Their estate can also include assets to which they have any rights other than legal ownership, such as the value of a trust or a lease.


Every will should name an individual or institution to be the executor or personal representative of the estate. Upon a person’s death, the court formally appoints a personal representative to administer the estate and fulfill the instructions outlined in the will.

Affidavit of Heirship

An affidavit of heirship is used to identify heirs and establish property ownership when the original owner dies intestate (without a will). These are typically used when the decedent left only real property or motor vehicles. An Affidavit of Heirship does not transfer bank accounts.


Beneficiaries are individuals, trusts, or even organizations who are designated in estate planning documents to receive assets of the estate. Beneficiaries can be personally named or named as a class.


This term refers to someone dying without a will in place. There are state laws that will then dictate how their estate will be administered since the individual did not leave behind any instructions.


Probate is the court-supervised process in which the validity of the will is proven, or there is not a will, where the heirs are recognized and established, and the property is distributed according to the terms of the will, or in administered in accordance with the Estates Code.


A trust is a fiduciary relationship in which a trustor gives a trustee the right to hold title to assets or property for the benefit of the trustor or a third party. Trusts can protect the trustor’s assets, hold property until a beneficiary reaches a particular age, and contain some of the same instructions that would be included in a will. Trusts are also used to avoid probate when possible.  


A will contains instructions for distributing or disposing of assets after one’s death. This written document can also state a person’s wishes regarding the care or guardianship of their minor children if needed.

Powers of Attorney

Powers of attorney are used to designate another person to act on your behalf, whether it be financial decisions, legal decisions, or medical decisions. You can specify their exact authorizations and the requirements for the authority to go into effect.

Contact an Experienced San Antonio Estate Planning Attorney

It’s never too early or late to begin planning for your future and ensuring the protection of your loved ones. James P. Peterson has the experience, knowledge, and resources necessary to assist. If you need help navigating estate planning and its terms, contact James P. Peterson Attorney at Law today to schedule a one-on-one case assessment. He proudly serves clients in San Antonio, Boerne, and New Braunfels, Texas