It is fairly evident that lawyers love to use Latin words. You’ll find examples such as mens rea or habeas corpus on most episodes of Law and Order. Some people think we like to use them because it makes us look smart; others accuse us of using fancy words so that we can charge more. However, we use many of these words and need to continue to use them because their meanings are so well established in the law and provide us with certainty.
There are even fancy Latin terms in the estate planning world. Some of these terms may even be found in your own Will. The following is our own personal dictionary of a few important terms:
Per stirpes– meaning “by branch”- this term is used for distribution purposes and means that the share given to a group of people stays in each individual’s family branch, so long as there are descendants. For example, if there are four children and one dies, that deceased child’s children will split his or her share. Assets will keep passing down the line as long as there are descendants.
Per capita– meaning “by heads”- this term is used for distribution purposes and means that the surviving members of a group share equally in a gift to that group. For example, if there are four children and one dies, the surviving three children share the gift, while the descendants of the deceased child receive nothing.
Inter vivos– meaning “between the living”- it applies to transfer or legal arrangements entered into during life. For example, an inter vivos trust exists presently, while the grantor (the creator of the trust) is alive. Compare that to a testamentary trust, which is found in a Will and comes into existence after the grantor’s death.
Testate or Testamentary- from the Latin word testatus, meaning “having made a Will”- when one dies “testate,” he or she has a Will.
Intestate or Intestacy- from the Latin word intestatus, meaning “not having made a Will”- when one dies “intestate,” he or she does not have a Will. Administering an estate without a Will is typically more time consuming and expensive.
Ad litem– meaning “for the suit”- commonly used in the term “guardian ad litem,” which is a person appointed to represent the interests of someone cannot do so themselves, usually for an estate or lawsuit (such as when a minor is a beneficiary of an estate). The court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of such individual.
We would be happy to help you include the most appropriate legal terms in your estate planning documents. Email us or give us a call at (205) 802-0696.