Estate Planning has its own vocabulary. To help you speak the language, we've created a glossary of the more commonly used words and phrases. This glossary is comprised of 26 individual pages, one for each letter of the alphabet. To find a particular word or phrase that starts with the letter "H" - simply scroll down the list below. If your word or phrase starts with another letter, please use the alphabet index below.




The term "heirs" refers to those persons who inherit from a decedent’s estate in the absence of a valid will or trust. All 50 states have enacted laws that determine a decedent’s heirs. Those laws are generally referred to as "intestacy laws" or as the laws of "descent and distribution." To view the intestacy laws of each of the 50 states, please go to State Intestacy Laws.

Holographic Will

A "holographic will" is a will that is handwritten and signed by the testator. Most states require that a will be signed by two witnesses, who attest to the testator's signature. However, in many jurisdictions, an unwitnessed holographic will is valid as long as it meets certain minimum requirements, such as:

  • There must be sufficient evidence to show that the testator actually created the will.
  • The testator must have had sufficient intellectual capacity to write the will.
  • It must be clear that the testator intends to direct the distribution of his property to certain beneficiaries.
Holographic wills are often created in situations where the testator is in fear of losing his life; i.e., when the testator is alone and near death. Many states permit holographic wills by members of the armed services who are serving in combat zones, and sailors who are at sea. Many states also permit holographic wills in other situations as well. To check whether a state permits a holographic will, and the circumstances under which a holographic will is permitted, see State Requirements to Make a Will.