Wills Glossary. Legal Terms Used In Wills Explained

Wills Glossary
This is a glossary of Wills 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 we have produced this Wills Glossary for you.


    Administration 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 rules of intestacy.

    Administration period

    This is the time taken from the date of death of the deceased to the completion of the administration of the estate.


    The person who deals with the estate of a person who has died intestate.


    A written declaration, sworn upon oath, made in front of an authorised official.


    Property, money and the other belongings of the deceased person.


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


    Testimony, proof, confirmation or verification. Attestation is often used as a term for witnessing a signature.


    A person or organisation designated as the recipient of funds or other property under a Will.


    A gift left in a Will that is not land or buildings (e.g. furniture, antiques).

    Capital Gains Tax

    This is the tax payable on profit made when selling certain assets.


    An item of property other than freehold land, including tangible goods and leasehold interests. Personal chattels would include clothes, furniture and jewellery


    An addition or change made to a Will. The codicil has to be signed and witnessed in the same way as a Will.

    Common Law Marriage

    Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a 'common law marriage'. In England and Wales only people who are married, whether of the same sex or not, or those in civil partnerships can rely on the laws about dividing up finances when they die or divorce.

    Contingent Legacy

    A gift that has a condition attached to it. An example of this is where a gift of money is conditional on a beneficiary reaching a certain age.

    Court of Protection

    The Court of Protection 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 the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.


    A covenant is a formal agreement of legal validity.


    The Crown is the state in all its aspects.

    Deed of Variation

    A deed of variation of a deceased's estate is the 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.

    Discretionary Trust

    A trust in which the number of shares of each beneficiary are not fixed by the settlor in the trust deed, but at the discretion of the trustees.


    To prevent someone from being a beneficiary and from inheriting one's property.


    Domicile is a concept of general law and it is distinct from nationality or residence. Broadly speaking the domicile is the country where a person has their permanent home.


    The person who is leaving a gift.


    All the possessions of the deceased, including houses, property, cars, investments, money and other belongings.

    Excepted Estate

    An excepted estate is one where no Inheritance Tax has to be paid because the Inheritance Tax Threshold has not been met.


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


    The female version of Executor. As you can imagine, the word is rarely used these days, as the term Executor has come to cover both male and female.


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

    Grant of Probate

    This the document issued by the Probate Registry to the executors to authorise them to deal with the estate. It is necessary to obtain a grant of probate before the executors can distribute the assets as set out in the deceased's will.


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


    A person who is legally entitled to the property of another upon that person's death.

    Holographic Will

    A type of will that has been entirely handwritten and signed by the testator.

    Immovable Property

    Immovable Property is an item of property that cannot be moved without destroying or altering it – property that is fixed to the earth, such as a house.


    An indemnity is a contractual obligation by one party to compensate another for the loss suffered as a consequence of a specific event.

    Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

    An Act that empowers the court to make orders for provision for the spouse, former spouse, child of the family or dependant(s) of a deceased person.

    Inheritance Tax

    The tax that is to be paid when the total value of the estate of the deceased is more than the current Inheritance Tax threshold.

    Inheritance Tax Threshold

    The tax free amount allowed before any Inheritance Tax is payable, currently £325,000.


    Intestacy is the condition of the estate of a person who dies without having made a valid Will. Their estate is then distributed according to rules laid down in law governing intestacy.


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


    A public enquiry, held by a coroner into the circumstances surrounding a person's death.


    Insolvency is where there is a shortfall of funds to meet all liabilities.

    Joint Tenancy

    Property that is owned by two or more people in equal shares is known as joint tenancy. 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 passes automatically to the surviving owner and does so outside the terms of the will.

    Last Will and Testament

    The legal document that states the way a person wishes to have their estate distributed upon their death.

    Lasting Power of Attorney

    A lasting power of attorney (LPA) is a legal document that lets a person appoint one or more people to help make decisions or to make decisions on the person's behalf. There are two types of LPA: health and welfare; property and financial affairs.


    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, often known as the freeholder, called a lease. Ownership of the property passes to the landlord when the lease comes to an end.


    A gift of money (usually a specific amount) that is left to a person or an organisation, such as a charity, in a person's will.

    Letter Of Intent or Letter of Wishes

    An appendix to a Will which details specific wishes not covered by law. This typically includes preferred funeral arrangements.

    Letters of Administration

    This is the document issued by the Probate Registry to the Administrators authorising them to deal with the estate. Letters of Administration are issued to the next of kin of an individual who dies without a Will.


    The debts that need to be settled 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, also known as Advance Health Care Decision, is an American term which allows a person to express specific wishes for their end-of-life healthcare. Living Wills cannot necessarily be enforced by law in England and Wales.

    Matrimonial Home

    The place where a husband and wife live. It is often the most valuable asset owned by a family.

    Memorandum of Wishes

    Commonly a Memorandum of Wishes is a document used in conjunction with Trusts. It can also refer to a non-binding document used to direct executors on how to distribute low value personal chattels distributed.


    A person who is under the age of 18 - one who has not yet reached the legally recognised age of adulthood.

    Moveable Property

    This is personal property that can be moved from one location to another. Examples include cars, computers, jewellery and works of art.

    Next of Kin

    The nearest blood relative of the deceased.

    Nil Rate Band Allowance

    The amount that can be passed to beneficiaries without having to pay any Inheritance Tax.

    Office of the Public Guardian

    The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) is a government body that, working within the framework of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, protects the private assets and supervises the financial affairs of people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions themselves.

    Parental Responsibility

    The rights, duties and responsibilities that a parent has towards their child and his/her property.

    Pecuniary Legacy

    A gift of a fixed sum of money in a Will.

    Personal Chattels

    Any personal items such as books, cars, furniture, jewellery, pictures, wine; but not money, investments, property or business assets.

    Personal Representatives

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

    Post Mortem

    A medical examination of a 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 at least seven years after making the gift.

    Power of Attorney

    A power of attorney or letter of attorney is a written authorisation to act on another's behalf.

    Power Reserved

    In the context of probate, this is the postponement of an executor's right to obtain a grant of probate in a deceased person's estate. It applies where one executor does not wish to assert his right at present, but reserves the right to do so at a later date, and there is more than one executor appointed by the deceased.


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


    Probate is the process whereby a Will is "proved" in a court and accepted as a valid public document as being 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 assets as per their 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 executors. 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. Note that not all Wills need to go through probate.

    Probate Registry

    The probate offices that issue grants of probate and grants of letters of administration are known as Probate Registries, and there are twelve such offices in England and Wales. 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


    Proving the Will

    Proving a Will is convincing a probate registry that a document is truly the deceased person's will. Usually this is a simple formality that the executor or administrator easily satisfies by showing that the will was signed and dated by the deceased person in front of two witnesses.


    See Beneficiary.


    Every death must be registered by a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Most towns throughout England and Wales have a registry office. Incidentally, all certificates of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales since 1837 are kept at the General Register Office.

    Renouncing Probate

    Where a named Executor in a will signs a legal document cancelling their appointment from the start of the administration period. This is allowed because there is no legal obligation to be an executor.

    Residuary Beneficiary

    A residuary beneficiary receives the “residue” of an estate in a will; that is, all of the estate that is left after specific gifts have been distributed.

    Residue or Residuary Estate

    This is what remains in a deceased person's estate after all specific gifts are accounted for, and all liabilities and expenses have been paid.


    This the term used when the testator legally cancels their will completely.

    Rules of Intestacy

    When a person dies without leaving a valid will, their estate is shared out according to the rules of intestacy. Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy.


    Severance is not a Professor from Hogwarts, but rather a way of altering the type of joint 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. If you're on a low income or benefits and need help to pay for a funeral you're arranging, you should be able to get a Funeral Payment from the Social Fund. Note that you might have to repay some or all of it from the deceased person's estate.

    Specific Legacy

    A specific legacy is a gift of a precisely identifiable object, distinguished from all other things of the same kind, such as a gift of a particular piece of furniture.


    A person's husband or wife.

    Tenant for Life

    A tenant for life is entitled to hold the legal estate but only for the duration of his life. On his death, the legal estate is vested in whoever is entitled to it according to the will. 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. In a joint tenancy, the right of survivorship allows the remaining tenants to take over a tenant's property share if they die.

    Tenants in Common

    All tenants in common hold an individual, undivided ownership interest in the property. This means that each party has the right to alienate, or transfer the ownership of, her ownership interest. In a tenancy in common, the deceased person's share will pass to their heirs through a will or through the probate process rather than to the surviving tenants.

    Testamentary Expenses

    The costs of obtaining the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, collecting in the assets of the estate and of administering the estate in general.


    The person who sets out their wishes as to how their estate should be distributed, in the form of a Will. Testator is an old fashioned term, and we prefer to use the term Will maker.


    The female deriverative of testator. In other words, the female who sets out their wishes as to how their estate should be distributed, in the form of a Will. Testatrix is not only a mouthful, it's an old fashioned term which we never use, as we prefer to use the term Will maker.


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

    Transferrable Nil Rate Band

    For married couples or civil partners. Provided there were no other assets chargeable to IHT or Capital Transfer Tax on the deceased's death, the whole of the nil rate band is unused and can be transferred to the surviving spouse or civil partner's estate. The personal representatives can make a claim to transfer the unused nil rate band. 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 death.


    An arrangement set up by some wills or deeds with the trustees being appointed and given money or assets to hold and manage for the defined beneficiaries.

    Trust Fund

    A trust fund is created by a will whereby assets are held for the benefit of beneficiaries for a specified period of time, rather than being paid outright.


    A person appointed to manage a trust fund created by a Will. A trustee is given the legal responsibility to hold any assets until nominated beneficiaries meet certain criteria set out in the deceased's will. Trustees have duties to be loyal, prudent and impartial and to inform the beneficiaries of the running of the trust.


    Someone whose spouse has died, and has not remarried.


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


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

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