Wills and Probate Glossary


Posted on 13 December 2012


There are a number of words and phrases that you will often come across in the area of wills and probate. This article takes you through some of the most important ones.

Beneficiary:

Someone who receives anything from your will

Codicil:

A change to an existing will is made through adding a codicil.

Crown or Treasury:

The government. If you leave no surviving family and no instructions to the contrary, they get everything.

Estate:

Your possessions at the time of your death (less any outstanding debts).

Executors:

Less sinister than they sound! Executors are the people you choose to carry out your instructions.

Guardian:

A person with legal control or responsibility for a minor (i.e. a child under 18). You can designate Guardians in your will.

Inheritance Tax:

40% tax payable on all estates over a certain value (£325,000 in 2009-10). This can catch homeowners out, especially in and around London.

Intestate:

If you die without making a will, you are said to die ‘intestate’

Minor:

Anyone under the age of 18 (in English law)

Legacy:

A gift in a will. This can be a specified item (a Specific Legacy) or a gift of money (a Pecuniary Legacy)

Probate:

Grant of probate establishes that your executor(s) are legally authorised to manage and distribute your estate.

Residue or Residuary Estate:

What’s left of your estate after all specific gifts and expenses have been paid out

Residuary Beneficiary:

Someone who receives the residue of an estate, or part of it

Sound Mind:

To be ‘of sound mind’ means that the mind is reasonable and comes to a judgment upon ordinary subjects, like other rational men.

Testator:

Someone who makes a Will

Testatrix:

A female testator

Trust:

A trust is an arrangement under which a trustee or trustees hold and manage property for the benefit of another person or persons (the trust beneficiary or beneficiaries)

Trustee:

A person responsible for administering a trust.

Will:

A legal document which establishes the wishes of someone upon their death. Used to say who gets what from someone’s estate. Writing a will ensures that your possessions are distributed according to your wishes in the event of your death.

Witness:

A witness confirms that they saw the testator (or testatrix) sign the document and that he/she was of sound mind at the time of signing. To be legally valid, a will must have two witnesses.