Wills and probate glossary

Wooden tabletop with glasses lying on a newspaper and pen lying on a paper with Last Will and Testament written on it


Administrator Someone appointed by court to deal with an estate when there is no valid will, the will does not name executors or the named executors are not able and willing to act.

Assets Things someone owns, such as money, investments, property and possessions. When someone dies, the assets they leave are their 'estate'.

Attorney An individual who is given the power to take decisions on someone else's behalf under a lasting power of attorney.

Beneficiary A person (or organisation) who has been left something in a will or trust.

Bequest A gift left to someone in a will.

Caveat A probate registry procedure you can use to ensure that you are informed if anyone applies to be the executor or administrator of an estate, giving you the chance to discuss your concerns or take court action.

Civil partnership An officially registered civil partnership between two same-sex partners or opposite-sex partners gives the civil partners the same rights as a married couple.

Codicil A legal document that amends the terms of a will. If someone wants to change their will, drawing up a codicil is an alternative to preparing an entirely new will.

Coroner An official (usually a lawyer or a doctor) who is responsible for investigating an unexplained or suspicious death.

Court of Protection A specialist court that deals with applications for deputyships and other questions relating to people who may lack the capacity to make their own decisions.

Deputyship A deputy is a person appointed by the Court of Protection to manage the affairs of someone who lacks the mental capacity to manage their own affairs.

Donor In terms of a lasting power of attorney, the person who is giving the attorney the power to make decisions on their behalf.

Enduring power of attorney A type of power of attorney created prior to October 2007 when lasting powers of attorney were introduced. Existing enduring powers of attorney are still valid, but new ones cannot be drawn up.

Estate The assets (eg money, investments, property, personal possessions and so on) left by a deceased person.

Estate administration The process of dealing with a person’s legal and tax affairs after they have passed away.

Executor Someone who, named in a valid will, is responsible for administering a deceased person's estate.

Exemption Certain gifts and transfers are exempt from inheritance tax (eg gifts to a spouse or to charities).

Grant of probate The official court document that confirms the executors' legal authority under a will to deal with an estate.

Grant of representation Grant of probate or letters of administration confirming who has the legal authority to deal with an estate.

Inheritance tax threshold The limit above which inheritance tax may be payable on an estate; the current threshold is £325,000.

Intestacy When someone dies without having a valid will. The deceased person is then intestate and the estate must be distributed according to set rules of intestacy.

Joint tenants How spouses or civil partners commonly own property. When one dies, the other automatically inherits the whole property. Neither of you can leave your home (or a share in it) to anyone else in your will.

Lasting power of attorney A legal document in which the donor gives the attorney the power to make decisions on their behalf, either in relation to property and financial affairs or health and welfare.

Legacy A gift left to someone in a will.

Letters of administration The official court documents that confirm the appointment of someone to act as the administrator for an estate.

Medical certificate A certificate issued by a doctor showing the cause of death. The medical certificate is needed to register a death.

Office of the Public Guardian Deals with the registration of lasting powers of attorney (and enduring powers of attorney) and the supervision of deputies.

Pecuniary bequest A gift in a will of a specific sum of money.

Personal representative A person responsible for administering an estate; the generic term that covers both the executor(s) and the administrator(s).

Post mortem A medical examination of a deceased person that may be necessary if their cause of death is unclear or suspicious.

Probate The process through which the executors or administrators of a deceased person's estate get the court's permission to deal with it.

Probate Registry The part of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service that deals with wills and estates.

Register Office When someone dies, their death must be registered with the Register Office, normally within five days.

Renounce executorship Application to be released from the role of executor. This is normally only possible if you have not yet started to administer the estate.

Residue What is left of an estate after pecuniary and specific legacies, debts, inheritance tax and expenses.

Rules of intestacy The rules that set out who inherits if someone dies without leaving a valid will.

Specific bequest A gift in a will of a particular asset (eg a piece of jewellery) owned by the deceased.

Tenancy in common Where two or more people have ownership interests in a property. Each owner has the right to leave his (or her) share of the property to any beneficiary upon the owner's death.

Testator The person making a will.

Trust A trust allows you to pass assets to someone while you are still alive or under the terms of a will. Rather than being received outright, the assets are received with restrictions and so can only be used in the way you have prescribed (eg a sum of money does not pass to a child until their 21st birthday).

Will A properly witnessed written legal document setting out how a testator wishes his or her estate to be distributed on death.

Witness In terms of wills, someone who observes the signing of the will (and signs to confirm this). Witnesses (and their spouses or civil partners) cannot inherit anything from the will.

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