Elder Law Dictionary

Elder + Estate Law Terms

All of the terms and definitions you need to know in plain English. We save the legalese for the court room. 


All the Terms You Need to Know 

Activities of Daily Living (ADL)

Basic activities such as bathing, dressing, using the toilet, eating, and moving from one place to another.

Advance Medical Directives

Legal documents that specify a person’s desires for medical treatment. Advance Medical Directives are drawn up before a person becomes too ill to make competent decisions. See Also: Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.


Basically, anything you own, including your home and other real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, investments, furniture, jewelry, art, clothing, and collectibles.


A professional review of a person’s needs that is performed by a Case Manager orPrivateCare Manager. Together, the Case Manager and family decide what kind of treatment and supports, if any, are needed.

Assisted Living Facility

A licensed boarding home that offers private apartments. This service emphasizes privacy, independence, and personal choice. Services include meals, Personal Care, medication assistance, limited supervision, organized activities, and limited Nursing Care.

Case Manager

A professional who help Caregivers identify their loved ones’ needs. Case Manager also organize and coordinate care services, and help Caregivers access appropriate services, benefits, and entitlements. Also called Care Coordinator, Advocate, and Facilitator.

Catastrophic Health Insurance

Health Insurance that provides protection against the high cost of treating severe or lengthy illnesses or disability.

Comprehensive Health Insurance

A broad form of Health Insurance that provides coverage for almost all types of medical expense with few internal limits, usually subject to a Deductible. Also called Comprehensive Major Medical.

Continuum of Care

A term that implies the full range of treatments and services that an elderly, ill, or disabled person needs as his or her situation changes.


One who is legally responsible for the care and well-being of another person. If appointed by a court, the conservator is under the court’s supervision. May also be called a guardian. (Duties and titles can vary by state. For example, in Missouri, there is a guardian of the person and a conservator of the estate.)


A court-controlled program for persons who are unable to manage their own affairs due to mental or physical incapacity. May also be called a guardianship.

Durable Power of Attorney

A legal document giving one or more people the authority to handle finances, property, or other personal matters for another person. The Durable Power of Attorney is considered a better tool for Caregivers than a basic power of attorney because it remains in effect even if the person granting the power becomes incompetent.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

A Durable Power of Attorney that allows one person to make medical decisions for another. Also called a Health Care Proxy or Health Care Power of Attorney.


Assets and debts left by an individual at death.

Estate Taxes

Federal or state taxes on the value of assets left at death. Also called inheritance taxes or death taxes.


Person or institution named in a will to carry out its instructions. Female is executrix. Also called a personal representative.

Federal Estate Tax Exemption

Amount of an individual’s estate that is exempt from federal estate taxes.


The person who sets up or creates the trust. The person whose trust it is. Also called creator, settlor, trustor, donor or trustmaker.


See “Conservatorship.”


One who is entitled by law to receive part of your estate.

Inter Vivos

Latin term that means “between the living.” An inter vivos trust is created while you are living instead of after you die. A revocable living trust is an inter vivos trust.

Irrevocable Trust

A trust that cannot be changed (revoked) or cancelled once it is set up. Opposite of revocable trust.


Without a will.

Joint Ownership

A form of ownership in which two or more persons own the same asset together. Types of joint ownership include joint tenants with right of survivorship, tenants in common, and tenants by the entirety.

Land Trust

Often used for privacy. Title is transferred to a corporate trustee or corporation, but you keep control over how the property is managed. Because the title is in the name of the corporate trustee or corporation, no one knows the property belongs to you. In all financial transactions and dealings, your personal name never comes up. Also called a title holding trust.

Liquid Assets

Cash and other assets (like stocks) that can easily be converted into cash.

“Living Probate”

The court-supervised process of managing the assets of one who is incapacitated.

Living Trust

A written legal document that creates an entity to which you transfer ownership of your assets. Contains your instructions for managing your assets during your lifetime and for their distribution upon your incapacity or death. Avoids probate at death and court control of assets at incapacity. Also called a revocable inter vivos trust. A trust created during one’s lifetime.

Living Will

A legal document that states how health care should proceed once a person is no longer capable of making decisions for him or herself. Living Wills specify in advance whether or not someone wants to have his or her life prolonged through artificial or extreme methods. Many states allow Living Wills to be written only in cases of terminal illness.

Long-Term Care

A set of health care, Personal Care, and social services required by persons who have lost, or never acquired, some degree of functional capacity. Such services are needed for a long period of time and may be provided in an institution or at home.

Long-Term Disability

Generally defined as any disability that lasts for longer than 90 days. May also refer to a type of insurance that pays benefits in the event of such a disability.


A federally aided, state-operated program that provides medical benefits for low-income persons who meet specified eligibility criteria. Individual states determine the benefits covered, program eligibility, rates of payment for providers, and methods of administering the program.


A federally funded health insurance program for people aged 65 and over, for persons eligible for social security disability payments, and for certain people who need kidney transplantation or dialysis. Medicare consists of two separate but coordinated programs: hospital insurance (Part A) and supplementary medical insurance (Part B).

Medigap Policy

A private health insurance policy offered to Medicare beneficiaries to cover expenses not paid by Medicare. Medigap policies are strictly regulated by federal rules. Also known as Medicare supplemental insurance.


One who is under the legal age for an adult, which varies by state (usually age 18 or 21).

Payable-on-Death Account

See “Totten Trust.”

Palliative Care, Palliation

Treatment that relieves symptoms but does not cure an illness. Palliative care can help people with Chronic Diseases live more comfortably.

Private Care Manager

A professional who assesses a care-recipient’s needs, and coordinates and monitors the necessary care, services, and treatments.

Per Capita

A way of distributing your estate so that your surviving descendants will share equally, regardless of their generation.

Per Stirpes

A way of distributing your estate so that your surviving descendants will receive only what their immediate ancestor would have received if he/she had been living at your death.

Personal Property

Movable property. Includes furniture, automobiles, equipment, cash and stocks. Opposite of real property that is permanent (like land).

Pour Over Will

A short will often used in conjunction with a living trust. It states that any assets left out of your living trust will become part of (pour over into) your living trust upon your death.

Power of Attorney

A legal document giving someone legal authority to sign your name on your behalf in your absence. Ends at incapacity (unless it is a durable power of attorney) or death.


The legal process of validating a will, paying debts, and distributing assets after death.

Probate Estate

The assets that go through probate after you die. Usually these include assets you own in your name and those paid to your estate. Usually does not include assets owned jointly, payable-on-death accounts, insurance and other assets with beneficiary designations. Assets in a trust also do not go through probate.

Probate Fees

Legal, executor, and appraisal fees and court costs when an estate goes through probate. Probate fees are paid from assets in the estate before the assets are fully distributed to the heirs.

Quitclaim Deed

Document that allows you to transfer title to real estate. With a quitclaim deed, the person transferring the title makes no guarantees, but transfers all his/her interest in the property.

Real Property

Land and property that is permanently attached to land (like a building or a house).

Recorded Deed

A deed that has been filed with the county land records. This creates a public record of all changes in ownership of property in the state.

Revocable Trust

A trust in which the person setting it up retains the power to change (revoke) or cancel the trust during his/her lifetime. Opposite of irrevocable trust.

Reversible Mortgage

A type of home loan that allows a person to convert some of the equity in his or her home into cash while still retaining home ownership.

Settle an Estate

The process of handling the final affairs (valuation of assets, payment of debts and taxes, distribution of assets to Beneficiaries) after someone dies.

Special Gifts

A separate listing of special assets that will go to specific individuals or organizations after your incapacity or death. Also called special bequests.

Special Needs Trust

Allows you to provide for a disabled loved one without interfering with government benefits.

Spendthrift Clause

Protects assets in a trust from a beneficiary’s creditors.

Successor Trustee

Person or institution named in the trust document who will take over should the first trustee die, resign, or otherwise become unable to act.

Supplemental Security Income

A federal assistance program for low-income aged, blind, and disabled individuals. States may use Supplemental Security Income limits to establish Medicaid eligibility.

Tax-Deferred Plan

A retirement savings plan (like an IRA, 401(k), pension, profit sharing, or Keogh) that qualifies for special income tax treatment. The contributions made to the plan and subsequent appreciation of the assets are not taxed until they are withdrawn at a later time — ideally, at retirement, when your income and tax rate are lower.

Testamentary Trust

A trust in a will. Can only go into effect at death. Does not avoid probate.


One who dies with a valid will.


Document proving ownership of an asset.

Transfer Tax

Tax on assets when they are transferred to another. The estate tax, gift tax and generation skipping transfer tax are all transfer taxes.


An entity that holds assets for the benefit of certain other persons or entities.

Trust Company

 An institution that specializes in managing trusts. Also called a corporate trustee.


Person or institution who manages and distributes another’s assets according to the instructions in the trust document.


See “Grantor.”

Totten Trust

A “pay-on-death” account. A bank account that will transfer to the beneficiary who was named when the account was established. The terms “transfer on death” (“TOD”), “in trust for” (“ITF”), “as trustee for” (“ATF”), and “pay on death” (“POD”) often appear in the title.

Viatical Settlement

The sale of a Life Insurance policy to a Viatical settlement company, which offers a terminally ill person a percentage of the policy’s face value. The Viatical settlement company then becomes the beneficiary to the policy, pays the premiums, and collects the face value of the policy after the original policyholder dies.


A written document with instructions for disposing of assets after death. A will can only be enforced through the probate court.





“Once my wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I knew that I needed help to make sure that she was cared for. Jerry was there for me when I needed him most.”

Dave K., Castle Rock, CO

Get In Touch

LITTLETON, CO 80120-1433


[email protected]