Wills and Probate Jargon Explained

Below is a list of terms used in matters of Wills and Probate. Whilst it is not a complete list of all the terminology, it does detail the most common words and phrases used. Find a Will understands that Wills and Probate can be both daunting and complicated. Visitors to this website are urged to seek appropriate professional advice in cases where they are unsure of the processes involved in either writing a Will or understanding the probate process.  

Administrator A person appointed when either no Will can be found or there is no executor to carry out the intentions of the Will. 

Assets Generally the property owned by the person who died. For example, a house, household goods, savings, investments, a car, etc. 

Beneficiary Someone who is entitled to receive a specific gift, sum of money or share of the estate. 

Bequest A gift left in a Will.

Chargeable gift A gift on which Inheritance Tax may be payable.

Codicil A document that amends (rather than replaces) a Will. Codicils can adversely affect a will, altering, cancelling or adding provisions to it. It is therefore more common to re-write the whole Will. It must conform to the same legal requirements as the original Will (such as the signature of the testator) and have two witnesses who do not benefit from the Will in any way. 

Confirmation of the Estate (Scotland) The document that confirms to executors that they have authority to act, and which validates the Will. 

Devise A gift by Will of freehold property.

Disbursement A payment made to a third party.

Executor A person or persons appointed in the Will to administer the estate.

Grant of probate (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) A document issued by the Court that confirms to executors that they have authority to act, and which validates the Will. Grant of Probate often refers to the greater legal process of administering the Estate of a deceased person by resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person’s property under the valid Will. 

Guardian Someone appointed to look after the interests of a child under the age of 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or under 16 in Scotland. 

Inheritance Tax Tax payable when the estate is over the current inheritance threshold (currently £325,000).

Intestate A person who has died and not left a legally valid will.

Legacy A gift of a specific item or cash sum left in a Will (except property).

Letters of Administration A document given by the Registrar to appoint people to handle a person’s estate, where there is no Will, no executors appointed in the Will, no executors still living, or no executors willing to carry out executor’s duties. 

Life interest The right to enjoy for life (or until a specified time period has elapsed or an event has occurred). This can be either money or property which will eventually revert to the original estate in some way on death. Instructions are usually included in the original deceased's Will as to what should happen to the gift when the life interest ends. 

Moveable property Anything other than buildings or land.

Pecuniary legacy A gift of money under a Will.

Personal representative A personal representative is the executor or administrator managing the deceased’s estate

Potentially exempt transfer (PET) A gift made during one’s lifetime that is exempt from Inheritance Tax if the donor lives for seven years after making the gift. 

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

Residue The balance of the estate after payment of funeral expenses, debts, legacies and all taxes. For example, what is left of the estate after the payment of all debts, taxes, administration expenses, legacies and bequests under the Will is considered ‘residue’. 

Residuary beneficiary A person entitled to the residue.

Reversionary interest Benefit from a trust property.

Section 27 Section 27 of the Trustee Act 1925, which refers to the placing of notices in The Gazette.

Section 28 Section 28 of the Trustee Act (Northern Ireland) 1958, which refers to the placing of notices in The Gazette.

Specific legacy A gift of a specific object under a Will.

Testator/testatrix The person (male/female) who makes the Will.

Trust An arrangement by which assets are handed over to trustees to be applied for the benefit of other people known as beneficiaries. 

Trustee The person who holds property on behalf of another person and is responsible for administering the trust assets. 

Variation, deed of A legal document that allows the beneficiaries to change the terms of a Will, even after the person’s death. 

Will A form of instructions as to how someone wishes to dispose of their assets after death.