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Understanding Wills and Probate Terminology

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Learn the complex legal terms when discussing Wills and Probate

It is highly unlikely that you will know the terminology that is used to discuss Wills and Probates.  After all, why would you?  These complex legal terms are not used in our day-to-day language.   However, you can learn the main terms that are often used, and what they mean so that you are knowledgeable when you have to discuss Wills and Probates.

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An administrator is someone who is responsible for dealing with financial affairs of the deceased when a Will does not exist.  Often it is a solicitor, a close family member or friend.


A legally written paper, signed under oath in presence of a solicitor, which allows you to claim the property as an inheritor or beneficiary.


Valuable things that have been left behind by the deceased person.  These can include art, cars, property, shares, business interests, land, bank accounts, jewellery and other valuable possessions.


The witnessing of signing of a Will to confirm its authenticity.


A person or organisations that will be the beneficiary from the estate of the deceased person.


To leave or give away money or property by Will to beneficiaries.


A gift that is left in a Will to a beneficiary or several beneficiaries i.e. grand children left a property.


These are the personal belongings of the deceased in common law systems. Typically these can include movable property such as cars, domestic animals, jewellery, furniture and any other tangible items that can be moved.


This is a document that makes minor changes to a Will without having to draft a new one for example one could change the beneficiaries or the percentage distribution amongst the beneficiaries.


The Treasury; part of the government. If the deceased person has left no Will and there is no family, then their estate goes to the Crown.


This is the collective term for the assets and chattels that are owned.


Is someone who has been appointed in the Will to take care of the estate. Occasionally a female executor is called an Executrix. 

Executor is responsible for selling the estate and distribution of its proceeds amongst the beneficiaries for example an Executor may have an inherited property to sell and once the sale has concluded the money can be distributed to all beneficiaries via the solicitors.  

An Executor may also be a beneficiary or may not be, depending on the contents of the Will.  However, an Executor has the final say regarding selling off the estate.

Grant of Probate

This is a document that is issued to the Executor that provides them with legal authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.  A common myth is that you need a Grant of Probate to sell a property

This is not a requirement as a Grant of Probate can be issued just before the Exchange of Contracts takes place, and therefore, you do not need to have a Grant of Probate in your possession to sell the property right until Contracts are due to be exchanged.

Inheritance Tax

It is the amount of tax that is payable on the value of a person’s estate if it is worth over a certain amount when they die.

The Executor of the Will or the Administrator of the estate usually pays Inheritance Tax using funds from the sale of the estate.  This tax is paid first before beneficiaries are paid.


This refers to when a person has died without having a Will in place.

Joint Tenancy

When a property is owned by more than one person. When one owner dies, the property is automatically passed over to the other owner.  Usually this is the case with married couples or siblings.

Lasting Power of Attorney

A legal document that is used in appointing a person to manage your financial and property affairs or your health and welfare decisions. 

Power of Attorney can have very specific purposes for which it is drawn up.  You can also have a Power of Attorney with a limited timeframe therefore, after this timeframe has passed, the Power of Attorney document is no longer valid.


This is the legal process of administering someone’s estate when they die. You will require a Death certificate, a copy of the Will – if there is one, to apply for a Grant of Probate that will then allow you to kick off the process for selling a property.

Residuary Estate

This is what is left of an estate after all bills and inheritance taxes have been paid.  Residuary estate is the amount that is ready for distribution to all beneficiaries, as per the Will rules.


The person who’s writing the will. Sometimes the term Testatrix is used if the testator is female.  Testator is usually a solicitor.  It is often recommended that a solicitor is used when drawing up a Will rather than buying a Will from WH Smiths.


This is a legal arrangement where up to four people are made legally responsible for the assets left to the beneficiaries if they are under 18 years old.  Trust are also used to avoid paying for care home fees.


The person who manages the trust.


This a legal document that states a person wishes for their estate when they die.


A Will must always have two witnesses to the testator signing it. These witnesses must not be beneficiaries of the Will or any family members of beneficiaries so you will need independent witnesses.

Wills and probate jargon explained
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