Glossary of Elder Law Terms

The following is a glossary of elder law terms giving brief definitions of words related to elder law.

Advance Health Care Directive. An Advance Health Care Directive is a document in which you can: 1) instruct your physician as to the kinds of medical treatment you might want or not want in the future (in many states, this is called a Living Will); and 2) choose someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to make those decisions yourself (in many states, this is called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or just a Power of Attorney for Health Care).

Attorney-in-Fact. The person named in a Durable Power of Attorney to act as an agent. This person need not be an attorney.

Beneficiary. An individual who receives the benefit of a transaction, for example, a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, a beneficiary of a trust, beneficiary under a Will.

Ward. The incapacitated person for whom a guardianship has been established.

Guardian. An individual who is appointed by the court to act on behalf of an incapacitated person.

Guardianship. A court proceeding in which the court supervises the management of an incapacitated person’s affairs and/or personal care.

Directive to Physicians. A written document in which an individual states his or her desire to have life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn under certain circumstances. This document must meet certain requirements under the law to be valid.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. A type of Advance Health Care Directive, this is a document in which an individual nominates a person as his or her agent to make health care decisions for him or her if he or she is not able to give medical consent. This document can give the agent the power to withdraw or continue life-sustaining procedures.

Durable Power of Attorney for Asset Management. A document in which an individual (the “principal”) nominates a person as his or her agent (attorney-in-fact) to conduct financial transactions on his or her behalf. This document can be either “springing,” which means that it is effective only upon the principal’s incapacity, or “fixed,” which means that the document becomes effective when it is signed.

Executor. The individual named in a Will who is responsible for administering an estate during probate. The Executor is the person responsible for making sure all taxes and other expenses are paid and distributing the property of the deceased person in accordance with the Will.

Federal Estate Taxes. A tax is due at death if the estate exceeds $5,000,000 + (as of 2013), and is calculated on the value of the deceased person’s estate at the time of death.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (aka HIPAA). Federal legislation which limits the informal communication of information from doctors and other health care providers

Irrevocable Trust. A trust that has terms and provisions which cannot be changed.

Joint Tenancy. A form of property ownership by two or more persons designated as “joint tenants.” When a joint tenant dies, his or her interest in the property automatically passes to the surviving joint tenant and is not controlled by the Will of the deceased joint tenant and is not subject to probate.

Life Estate. An interest in property that lasts for the life of the person retaining the life estate. When a person who has a life estate interest dies, the property passes to the person holding the remainder interest, without the need for probate.

Living Will. A written document in which an individual conveys his or her desire to die a natural death and not be kept alive by artificial means.

Long-Term Care Insurance. Private insurance which, depending on the terms of the policy, can pay for home care, or care in an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility.

Medicaid. A state and federally financed program that provides medical care to low income persons.

Medicare. A federal medical coverage program for persons who are over 65 years old or who are disabled. It is funded by Social Security deductions and has no income or resource restrictions. It does not pay for long-term custodial care.

Probate. The court proceeding which oversees the administration of a deceased person’s estate. Wills are subject to probate; living trusts (if properly funded) are not.

Revocable Living Trust. A device that describes certain property, names a trustee (who manages the property) and names a beneficiary who receives benefit from the trust. A living trust is an effective means of avoiding probate and providing for management of assets. It can be revoked by the person who created it during that person’s lifetime.

Social Security Retirement Benefits. Benefits, which eligible workers and their families receive when the worker retires. The worker must work for a specified period at a job that is covered by Social Security in order to be eligible for benefits. A worker must be at least 62 years old to receive retirement benefits.

Social Security Disability Benefits. Social Security benefits payable to disabled workers and their families.

Special Needs Trust. A specially drafted trust that provides a fund to supplement the governmental benefits of a beneficiary while not affecting that beneficiary’s eligibility for public benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A federal program which provides cash assistance to the aged, blind and disabled who have limited income and resources.

Testator. The person who executes a Will.

Trustor (Settlor). A person who creates a trust.

Trustee. The individual who is responsible for managing the property in the trust for the benefit of the beneficiary.

Will. The document a person signs which tells how he or she wants his or her estate administered and distributed upon death. It must conform to certain legal requirements in order to be valid. The terms of a Will become operational only upon the testator’s death.

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