If you are looking at making a will or changing an existing will, you may be confused by some of the terms used. Take a look at our wills jargon buster.

Some of the words, phrases and terms often found in wills, probate and estate planning, translated into plain English.

  • Assets - anything you own of value including property and land, investments, cash, and items such as paintings, antiques or valuable jewellery.
  • Beneficiary - a person or institution, such as a charity, who is set to receive something under a will, trust or intestacy.
  • Chattels - personal belongings that usually include items of furniture, art, antiques, jewellery, watches and so forth.
  • Crown - another name for the government or state - for instance if someone dies without a will and there is no family, the estate goes to the Crown.
  • Codicil - a legal document that is often used to make minor changes to a Will but in order for it be valid, the same formalities are applied.
  • Estate - this usually includes any assets and chattels owned by you (including your share of joint assets) or the value of anything held in trust that you are a beneficiary of.
  • Executor - the person(s) named in a will to administer your estate after your death.
  • Grant of probate - the legal document issued to the executors by the Probate Registry that authorises them to deal with the assets in the deceased's name. Without it, money and property can not be collected in and then distributed according to the will. See Letters of Administration when there is no will.
  • IHT- Inheritance Tax 
  • Intestate- this is when someone dies without a valid will in place and their estate is distributed according to very strict Rules of Intestacy.
  • Issue - children, grandchildren, adopted children.
  • Joint tenancy - a common arrangement for property owned by two or more people. When one owner dies, their ownership passes to the surviving owner(s).
  • Legacy - a gift included in a will that is either a fixed sum of money or a specific item. Legatee is the term used to describe that type of beneficiary.
  • Letters of administration - gives the same authority as the Grant of Probate, but is issued when there is no will.
  • Residue - what is left of the assets to share out after all the debts and legacies have been paid.
  • Tenants in common - the alternative way to hold joint property as opposed to joint tenants. Tenants in common own specific shares of an asset that can be passed on under their will (and do not pass to the surviving owner as it does with joint tenants).
  • Testator - the man who is writing the will.
  • Testatrix - the woman who is writing the will. 
  • Witness - a will must have two witnesses to the testator signing it and they must not be beneficiaries of the will, even indirectly. 

About the author

Kate Anderson Chartered Legal Executive

Kate advises clients on powers of attorney and estate planning including the preparation and use of wills and trusts.