When you begin planning your estate, whether it’s a will, living will, power of attorney, or healthcare power of attorney, you are faced with many new and unfamiliar terms. An estate planning attorney can be helpful when navigating these unfamiliar documents.


What is a will? A will, or a Last Will and Testament, is a document that instructs what happens to your property after your death. There are several people involved in the making and executing of a will.

Testator: The person who makes the will

Executor: The person or entity who carries out the will’s instructions. In many cases, this would be your spouse, your child, or someone you trust.

Probate: The act of filing the will with the court and supervising the executor’s administration. A will needs to be probated if the deceased person owned any assets in their name alone. Other assets can usually be transferred without probate. In North Carolina, the superior court clerk acts as the probate judge.

Beneficiary: A person, entity, or trust named to receive your property or other assets, usually under a will, but also under a trust, life insurance policy, or retirement plan.

Fiduciary: A person or entity named to act on your behalf when you are no longer able to do so, whether due to death or becoming incapacitated.

Power of Attorney:

A Power of Attorney is a document that gives someone of your choice broad power to act in your place if you are unable to do so. This person will be able to take care of important matters in your name—such as paying your bills, managing your investments, or directing your medical care.

Attorney-In-Fact: The person you name to act on your behalf in your Power of Attorney.

Successor Attorney-In-Fact: A person you name to act on your behalf if something were to happen to the attorney-in-fact.

Healthcare Power of Attorney:

Like a Power of Attorney, the Healthcare Power of Attorney gives someone of your choosing broad power to act in your place in a healthcare setting. This person can make decisions for your health and wellbeing and can consult with your doctors and health care providers as if they were you. They are still required to follow any treatment preferences to the extent that they know about them.

Health Care Agent: The person you name to act on your behalf in your healthcare power of attorney. Can also be called your agent, health care proxy, or something similar.

Living Will:

A living will is also called a Declaration for Desire for Natural Death. It is the document that lets your loved ones know your desires involving artificial life support.  It can let your health care agent and medical providers know what your wishes are if you haven’t already communicated them and become unable to do so.

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