Glossary of Will Terminology
Updated: Feb 24
Commonly Used Terms Found in Wills
Our glossary of Will terminology will help you to understand some of the legal terms used in estate planning.
A person appointed when either no Will can be found or there is no executor to carry out the intentions of the Will.
Generally the property owned by the person who died. For example, a house, household goods, savings, investments, a car, etc.
Someone who is entitled to receive a specific gift, sum of money or share of the estate.
A gift left in a Will.
Monies or assets that are used to generate income or held as an investment.
Capital gains tax (CGT)
A tax on the profit made when you sell or give away something that has increased in value.
A gift on which Inheritance Tax may be payable.
Any item of personal property that can be moved from place to place. This includes contents of a house, furniture, belongings, or a car.
A document that amends (rather than replaces) a Will. Codicils can adversely affect a Will, altering, cancelling, or adding provisions to it. It is more common to re-write the whole Will. It must abide by the same legal requirements as the original Will (such as the signature of the testator). And it must also have two witnesses who do not benefit from the Will in any way.
A gift which only takes effect if a specific condition is met on your death. For example, "If my brother is married at the time of my death, my house should go to him. If he is unmarried, it should instead go to my sister."
A doctrine used to give a gift to a similar beneficiary when the true beneficiary no longer exists or is not available. The cy pres doctrine is most often used with charitable gifts when the charity named in an estate planning document no longer exists. In that case, the trustee or court may use the cy pres doctrine to give the gift to a similar charity to match the donor's intention as closely as possible.
A gift by Will of freehold property.
All the assets you own, minus the value of any debts that you owe.
A person or persons appointed in the Will to administer the estate.
Grant of probate (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
This is the legal document that may be required to administer the Estate of someone who has died. With this document, Executors of the estate can then deal with all their legal, tax and administrative duties.
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 (IHT)
Tax payable when the estate is over the current inheritance threshold (currently £325,000).
Interest in possession trusts
Those where the income or benefit must be given to the specific beneficiary – it is his or hers by right. There may be more than one beneficiary, but they will all have a fixed entitlement.
A person who has died and not left a legally valid Will. The estate is then distributed according to statutory regulations called the Rules of Intestacy.
Children, grandchildren, adopted children but not stepchildren.
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. This document is used when:
There is no Will
No executors were appointed in the Will
No executors are still living
No executors are willing to carry out executor's duties
Financial obligations (such as debts or tax bills) which may need to be settled by your estate after your death.
Letter of wishes
An informal, non-binding and confidential document that can be drawn up to accompany a Will or trust and can be used to assist or guide an executor or trustee.
The condition of being actually or potentially subject to a legal obligation in the event of a range of situations.
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.
This is when a husband, wife or partner make almost identical Wills. For example, leaving everything to each other should one partner die. Or, if both die together, to another agreed beneficiary.
Anything other than buildings or land.
In the UK, the amount up to which there is no inheritance tax to pay on the value of the estate.
The current amount is £325,000. For a married couple or civil partnership, the unused part of the nil-rate band can be transferred to their spouse/partner on death, enabling the surviving spouse or civil partner to pass on a maximum of £650,000 tax free.
A gift of money under a Will.
A personal representative is the executor or administrator managing the deceased's estate.
Potentially exempt transfer (PET)
A gift in a Will that is exempt from Inheritance Tax if the donor lives for another 7 years after making the gift. Read more here.
Someone who dies before the person who has made the Will.
Probate is the entire process of administering a dead person’s estate. It involves paying any taxes and debts, as well as organising their assets and distributing them as inheritance.
A share, percentage or sometimes all, of an estate after all the other payments have been made. One of the advantages of a residuary gift is that it doesn't lose value over time. If you leave a proportion to us, you can still ensure other beneficiaries are provided for first.
Everything that is left in the estate after all the liabilities, tax, costs and legacies have been paid.
A person entitled to the residue.
To officially cancel. A Will can be voluntarily revoked by destroying it, writing another will or codicil (making a declaration in writing of an intention to revoke it).
This type of Will is written for just one person. But you can write a Single Will if you are in a relationship, married or in a civil partnership. In fact, if your partner already has a Will or their wishes differ to yours then a Single Will is often your best option.
The person who establishes a trust, held and administered by a trustee for the benefit of another.
A gift of a particular item, such as property, antiques, jewellery, and shares.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners – membership body for professionals advising on family inheritance and succession.
A term used to describe the distribution when a beneficiary dies before the person whose estate is being divided. It is Latin for ‘by roots’. An estate of a decedent is distributed per stirpes if each branch of the family is to receive an equal share of an estate.
The person (male/female) who makes the Will.
The term used to describe a person's legal and mental ability to make or alter a valid Will.
A trust is the formal transfer of assets (it might be property, shares or just cash) to a small group of people (usually two or three) or to a trust company with instructions that they hold the assets for the benefit of others. If the trust is to be made in your lifetime, to take immediate effect, then it is usually evidenced by a trust deed.
The trustee manages the trust on behalf of the 'beneficiaries' - those who receive the income of the trust.
Variation, deed of
A legal document that allows the beneficiaries to change the terms of a Will, even after the person's death.
Conferred or bestowed. When a right is vested, the person is legally entitled to what has been left to them in the Will. They may seek relief in court if the benefit is not given.
A legal document by which a person states what they want to happen to their estate following their death.
When the trust is created on or shortly after death and the trust provisions are set out in the person’s Will.
Two adults who are present, together with the Will drafter, when they date and sign the Will. The witnesses, or any spouse of a witness, cannot receive any benefit from the Will.
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