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LEGAL TERMS

DOWER AND CURTESY

A surviving spouse's right to receive a set portion of the deceased spouse's estate -- usually one-third to one-half. Dower (not to be confused with a 'dowry') ... (more...)
A surviving spouse's right to receive a set portion of the deceased spouse's estate -- usually one-third to one-half. Dower (not to be confused with a 'dowry') refers to the portion to which a surviving wife is entitled, while curtesy refers to what a man may claim. Until recently, these amounts differed in a number of states. However, because discrimination on the basis of sex is now illegal in most cases, most states have abolished dower and curtesy and generally provide the same benefits regardless of sex -- and this amount is often known simply as the statutory share. Under certain circumstances, a living spouse may not be able to sell or convey property that is subject to the other spouse's dower and curtesy or statutory share rights.

FAMILY POT TRUST

See pot trust.

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.

WILL

A document in which you specify what is to be done with your property when you die and name your executor. You can also use your will to name a guardian for you... (more...)
A document in which you specify what is to be done with your property when you die and name your executor. You can also use your will to name a guardian for your young children.

SPENDTHRIFT TRUST

A trust created for a beneficiary the grantor considers irresponsible about money. The trustee keeps control of the trust income, doling out money to the benefi... (more...)
A trust created for a beneficiary the grantor considers irresponsible about money. The trustee keeps control of the trust income, doling out money to the beneficiary as needed, and sometimes paying third parties (creditors, for example) on the beneficiary's behalf, bypassing the beneficiary completely. Spendthrift trusts typically contain a provision prohibiting creditors from seizing the trust fund to satisfy the beneficiary's debts. These trusts are legal in most states, even though creditors hate them.

LAPSE

Under a will, the failure of a gift of property. A gift lapses when the beneficiary dies before the person who made the will, and no alternate has been named. S... (more...)
Under a will, the failure of a gift of property. A gift lapses when the beneficiary dies before the person who made the will, and no alternate has been named. Some states have anti-lapse statutes, which prevent gifts to relatives of the deceased person from lapsing unless the relative has no heirs of his or her own. A lapsed gift becomes part of the residuary estate.

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.

AB TRUST

A trust that allows couples to reduce or avoid estate taxes. Each spouse puts his or her property in an AB trust. When the first spouse dies, his or her half of... (more...)
A trust that allows couples to reduce or avoid estate taxes. Each spouse puts his or her property in an AB trust. When the first spouse dies, his or her half of the property goes to the beneficiaries named in the trust -- commonly, the grown children of the couple -- with the crucial condition that the surviving spouse has the right to use the property for life and is entitled to any income it generates. The surviving spouse may even be allowed to spend principal in certain circumstances. When the surviving spouse dies, the property passes to the trust beneficiaries. It is not considered part of the second spouse's estate for estate tax purposes. Using this kind of trust keeps the second spouse's taxable estate half the size it would be if the property were left directly to the spouse. This type of trust is also known as a bypass or credit shelter trust.

FAILURE OF ISSUE

A situation in which a person dies without children who could have inherited her property.