Wills And Probate Glossary
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Wills and Probate Glossary


There are many legal terms used in Wills and Probate, and here we present a glossary of Wills and Probate related terms, all explained in plain English. There are a number of terms you may come across when searching for the meaning of certain words and phrases related to Wills and so here we provide you with a comprehensive Wills and Probate Glossary.

  • Administration
  • Managing the affairs of the deceased. This involves establishing, collecting and distributing the assets of the estate as laid out in the Will or, where there is no Will, according to the intestacy rules that apply.

  • Administration period
  • The time taken from the date of death to the completion of the estates administration.

  • Administrator
  • The person who deals with the estate of a person who has died intestate (without a Will).

  • Affidavit
  • A written statement, confirmed by oath, for use as evidence in court.

  • Apportionment
  • The proportionate division of a deceased's estate between certain beneficiaries.

  • Assets
  • Property, money and other belongings owned by the deceased.

  • Attorney
  • A person, typically a lawyer, but not always, who is appointed to act for another in business or legal matters on their behalf.

  • Attestation
  • Confirmation or verification. It is often used as a term when witnessing a signature.

  • Beneficiary
  • Anyone or any organisation that is entitled to a share of the estate of the deceased.

  • Bequest
  • Any gift left in a Will that is not land or buildings (e.g. jewellery).

  • Capital Taxes Office
  • The Inland Revenue Department that deals with all aspects of Inheritance Tax.

  • Capital Gains Tax
  • Often referred to as CGT it is a tax on the profit made when selling an asset.

  • Chargeable Gift
  • An item given in a Will on which tax may have to be paid.

  • Chattels
  • Any movable personal property or belongings not used for business. Examples of personal chattels would be ornaments, jewellery, furniture, clothes and so on.

  • Codicil
  • An addition or change made to a Will, for example, to increase a cash legacy or to change an executor named in a Will. The codicil has to be signed and witnessed in the same way as a Will. It is often just as easy to make an entirely new Will.

  • Common Law Spouse
  • There is no such thing as a common law spouse in law, although this is quite a common misconception.

  • Contest A Will
  • To challenge the terms of a Will.

  • Contingent Legacy
  • A gift with a condition attached to it. For example a gift can be conditional on a beneficiary reaching a certain age.

  • Conveyancing
  • Conveyancing is the legal term used for work that takes place when buying, selling and re-mortgaging property.

  • Court of Protection
  • The Court of Protection in English law is a superior court of record created under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It has jurisdiction over the property, financial affairs and personal welfare of people who lack mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.

  • Covenant
  • A legally binding obligation contained in a deed.

  • Crown
  • Where the estate goes if there is no next of kin and no Will.

  • Deceased
  • The person who has died.

  • Deed of Variation
  • A deed of variation (of a deceased's estate) is a document which varies a Will or the provisions of intestacy after a person has died by which one or more beneficiaries of a deceased person's estate choose to give up their entitlements under the deceased's Will or the intestacy rules in favour of other persons. A Deed of Variation can be used by beneficiaries to redirect inheritance entitlements in a Will or intestacy for tax purposes within two years of the date of death. The most common reason for drafting a Deed of Variation is to reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax payable from the deceased's estate.

  • Discretionary Trust
  • A trust where the trustee has the full power to decide when and which certain beneficiaries are to receive their capital.

  • Disinherit
  • To prevent someone from being a beneficiary.

  • Domicile
  • Domicile is a concept of general law. Domicile is distinct from nationality or residence. Broadly speaking your domicile is the country where you have your permanent home, and you can only have one domicile at any given time.

  • Donor
  • The person leaving a gift.

  • Estate
  • All the possessions of the person who has died, including all houses and property, cars, investments, money and other belongings.

  • Estate Accounts
  • Accounts of the financial transactions recorded during the Administration Period.

  • Excepted Estate
  • An estate where no Inheritance Tax has to be paid because the Inheritance Tax Threshold has not been met.

  • Executor
  • The person or organisation appointed in a Will to administer an estate.

  • Executors
  • The persons or organisations appointed in the Will to administer an estate.

  • Execution of the Will
  • The signing and witnessing of the Will.

  • Fixed Charge
  • A charge that is created over a specific asset or assets as security for borrowings or other debts.

  • Gift
  • A transfer from one person to another without fair compensation in return. A legacy left to others in a Will.

  • Grant of Letters of Administration
  • The legal document issued by the Probate Registry to the Administrators to authorise them to deal with the estate. This is issued when there is a Will but no named executor, where the executors are unable to apply, where they do not wish to be involved in dealing with the estate, or where the deceased has not made a Will or a Will that the deceased has made but is not valid.

  • Grant of Probate
  • The document issued by the Probate Registry to the executors to authorise them to deal with the estate.

  • Grant of Representation
  • The grant is a legal document issued by a court which confirms that the executor has the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets. This document must thus be obtained before the executors can start closing accounts and liquidating assets.

  • Guardian
  • The person appointed by a parent or a court to have parental responsibility for a child under the age of 18 years.

  • Heir
  • A person legally entitled to the property of another upon that person's death. The heir who inherits the property is typically a descendant or a close relative of the deceased.

  • Immovable Property
  • Freehold or leasehold property.

  • Indemnity
  • An agreement to compensate someone for any loss suffered as a result of a failure to act by another.

  • Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975
  • An Act that makes provision for empowering the court to make orders for the making out of the estate of a deceased person of provision for the spouse, former spouse, child, child of the family or dependant of that person. This is the act that allows people to bring a claim for inadequate provision under the terms of a Will or intestacy.

  • Inheritance Tax (IHT)
  • The tax that is to be paid when the total estate of a person who has died is more than the current inheritance tax threshold.

  • Inheritance Tax Threshold
  • The amount allowed before Inheritance Tax is payable, currently £325,000.

  • Intestacy
  • The name for the situation which arises when someone dies without having made a legally valid Will. Their estate is then distributed according to rules laid down in law governing intestacy.

  • Intestate
  • A person who has died without having made a legally valid Will.

  • Issue
  • An old fashioned term which means all the direct blood descendants of a person (children, grandchildren and so on).

  • Inquest
  • A public enquiry, held by a coroner into the circumstances surrounding a death.

  • Insolvency
  • When there is a shortfall of funds to meet all liabilities. In other words, insolvency is when you can't afford to pay back your debts at the time they are due.

  • Joint Tenancy
  • Property that is owned by two or more people in equal shares. Joint tenants are usually husband and wife and in the event of the death of the first person, the share of the property they owned would pass automatically to the surviving owner and would do so outside the terms of any Will.

  • Lapse
  • When a beneficiary dies before the testator.

  • Last Will and Testament
  • A legal document that lays out the way a person wishes to have their estate distributed upon their death.

  • Lasting Power of Attorney
  • A Lasting Power of Attorney can relate to someone's property and affairs or their personal welfare. Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) were created under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Their purpose is to meet the needs of those who can see a time when they will not be able to look after their own personal, financial or business affairs. The LPA allows them to make appropriate arrangements for family members or trusted friends to be authorised to make decisions on their behalf. The LPA is created and registered with the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

  • Laws of Intestacy
  • The Administration of Estates Act 1925 as amended by the Intestates' Estates Act 1952, the Family Law Reform Acts of 1969 and 1987 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 forms the basis of the current laws of intestacy. The Laws of Intestacy dictate how an estate is distributed should a person die without leaving a legally valid Will.

  • Leasehold
  • A form of property tenure where a person buys the right to occupy land or a building for a given length of time. There will be a legal agreement with the landlord (sometimes known as the 'freeholder') called a 'lease'. Ownership of the property returns to the landlord when the lease comes to an end.

  • Legacy
  • A gift of money (usually a specific amount) left to someone in a Will.

  • Letter Of Intent
  • An appendix to a Will detailing specific wishes not covered by law. This would typically include preferred funeral arrangements.

  • Letters Of Administration
  • Letters of Administration are granted by a probate registry to appoint appropriate people to deal with a deceased person's estate where property will pass under Intestacy Rules or where there are no executors living (and willing and able to act) having been validly appointed under the deceased's Will.

  • Liabilities
  • The debts that need to be settled by the estate following the death of the deceased.

  • Life Interest
  • The right to enjoy for life or for a specified time period either money or property which will eventually revert to the original estate in some way on death.

  • Living Will
  • A Living Will is primarily an American term which allows a person to express their specific directives as to the course of treatment that is to be taken by care-givers. Its legal name is an Advance Decision to Refuse Treatment or an Advance Directive. Living Wills cannot necessarily be enforced by law in England and Wales.

  • Matrimonial Home
  • The place where a husband and wife live.

  • Memorandum of Wishes
  • Where a gift in a Will is coupled with a (non-binding) wish that it is to be distributed in accordance with wishes set out separately elsewhere.

  • Minor
  • A person who is under the age of 18.

  • Moveable Property
  • Any property that is not immovable e.g. personal chattels.

  • Next of Kin
  • The nearest blood relative of the deceased. When a person dies intestate the next of kin are the people entitled to the estate, in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy.

  • Nil Rate Band Allowance
  • The amount that can be passed to beneficiaries without paying Inheritance Tax.

  • Nominated Property
  • Assets that can be given to a beneficiary outside of a Will or estate.

  • Notary Public
  • A legal officer appointed to deal with legal documents primarily for international use.

  • Oath
  • A pledge to tell the truth.

  • Office of the Public Guardian
  • The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) is a government body that, within the framework of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, protects the private assets and supervises the financial affairs of people who lack mental capacity for making decisions. The OPG works closely with the Court of Protection.

  • Parental Responsibility
  • The rights and responsibilities that a parent has towards a child and their property.

  • Pecuniary Legacy
  • A gift of a fixed sum of money.

  • Personal Chattels
  • Any personal items including jewellery, furniture, wine, pictures, books and cars, but not money, investments, property or business assets.

  • Personal Representative
  • A general term for both Administrators and Executors, those who are tasked with dealing with the deceased's estate.

  • Post Mortem
  • A medical examination of the body to determine the cause of death.

  • Potentially Exempt Transfer
  • A gift made during one's lifetime that is exempt from Inheritance Tax if the donor lives for seven years after making the gift.

  • Power of Attorney
  • Authorisation to act on someone else's behalf.

  • Power Reserved
  • Where a named executor on the Will declines to act, but reserves the right to do so at a later date.

  • Predeceased
  • Someone who dies before the person who has made the Will.

  • Probate
  • Probate is the process whereby a will is "proved" in a court and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased. The granting of probate is the first step in the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under a Will. A probate court decides the legal validity of a deceased person's Will and grants its approval, also known as granting probate, to the executor. A probate also officially appoints the executor, generally named in the Will, as having legal power to dispose of the deceased's assets in the manner specified in their Will. In essence, probate is the official process that gives the executors of a Will the right to deal with the deceased's assets and property. It acts as proof that the executors have the authority they need to handle the estate of the deceased person. This legal procedure must be undertaken to establish that a Will is genuine and valid.

  • Probate Registry
  • A court within the family division of the High Court, that deals with probate matters. The probate registry is responsible for making sure that the Will is valid and the applicant is entitled to handle the estate of the deceased.

  • Pro Rata
  • Proportionately.

  • Proving the Will
  • Making the application for probate to the Probate Registry.

  • Realisation
  • Converting estate assets into cash.

  • Registrar
  • The person who registers the death. Every death must be registered by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

  • Renouncing Probate
  • Where a named Executor in a Will signs a legal document cancelling his appointment from the start of the administration period.

  • Residuary Beneficiary
  • Any person entitled to receive the whole or a share of any residue of the estate, under the terms of the Will or on intestacy.

  • Residuary Estate
  • What is left of the estate after all liabilities and expenses have been paid.

  • Residue
  • The remainder of the estate after all debts, funeral, and other expenses have been paid and legacies and bequests made. What's left after the money legacies, specific gifts, funeral expenses, Inheritance Tax, and all other expenses.

  • Revocation
  • The term used when the testator decides to legally cancel their Will completely and invalidate the previous Will.

  • Satisfaction
  • Settling a debt or obligation.

  • Settlor
  • A person who has set up a trust.

  • Severance
  • The action of splitting the ownership of a property. This is usually done so that joint tenants can become tenants in common and leave their share of the property to someone other than the other tenant.

  • Social Fund Funeral Payment
  • Part of the Social Security system which may provide help with the cost of a funeral to those on benefits.

  • Specific Legacy
  • Clearly defined gifts that are left to specific people.

  • Tenant for Life
  • Property that is owned by two or more people. Joint tenants are usually husband and wife and in the event of the death of one tenant, the other automatically becomes the owner of the whole property. In these situations it is not possible for a tenant to make a gift of their share of the property to someone else as it is not theirs to give.

  • Tenants in Common
  • Property is owned jointly but each joint owner has a distinct share forming part of their estate on death which does not pass automatically to the surviving tenant.

  • Testamentary Expenses
  • The costs of obtaining the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration and of administering the estate and other related expenses.

  • Testator
  • The person who sets out their wishes as to how their estate should be divided, in the form of a Will.

  • Title
  • The legal right to something. In a property context, title refers to the ownership of a property.

  • Transferrable Nil Rate Band
  • This is just for married couples or civil partners. By applying for the unused proportion of the Nil Rate Band upon the first death of a couple it in effect creates a Nil Rate Tax Band of £650,000 on the second person's death.

  • Trust
  • An arrangement set up by Will or deed with the trustees being appointed and being given money or assets to hold and manage for the defined beneficiaries.

  • Trust Fund
  • A trust fund is created by a Will where assets are held for the benefit of beneficiaries for a specified period of time, rather than being paid outright.

  • Trustee
  • A person appointed to manage a Trust Fund created by a Will. Someone who is given the legal responsibility to hold any assets until nominated beneficiaries meet certain criteria set out in the deceased's Will e.g. until a beneficiary reaches the age of 18. Trustees normally have powers to distribute monies and have full power to sell and invest. Trustees have duties to be loyal, prudent, impartial and to inform the beneficiaries of the trust.

  • Widowed
  • Someone who has lost their spouse by death and has not remarried.

  • Will
  • A legally binding set of instructions indicating how someone wishes to dispose of their assets upon their death.

  • Witnesses
  • The persons who must be present to see the testator sign the Will. They must also sign the Will themselves and should not be beneficiaries of the Will.

    We hope this Wills and Probate glossary guide has been useful and has answered any questions you may have and will help you to create a Will.