Glossary of Legal Terms

These are some of the words and terms commonly used when making a will and after the will comes into effect on someone’s death.

Administrator: The person who deals with your affairs if you die with no will. They are appointed by law and may not be the person you would have chosen.

Beneficiary: Anyone who receives a gift from your will.

Bequest (legacy): A gift left in a Will.

Specific: a specific item of value such as jewellery, furniture, property

  • Pecuniary: a gift of a fixed sum of money
  • Residuary: a share of the remainder of your estate after other legacies and expenses have been paid. Usually expressed as a percentage
  • Reversionary: a share of your estate after a future event such as the death of a partner.


Codicil: A short amending document which allows you to make small changes to your existing will such as adding a gift to a charity or altering the amount of a gift.

Estate: The total value of everything you own at your death, less any outstanding commitments or debts

Executor: The person or people you choose to carry out your wishes in your will. They can be a relative, a friend or your solicitor.

Guardians: The people chosen by parents to look after their underage children in the event of their death.

Intestacy: When someone does not make a will they are said to die intestate, giving rise to an intestacy. In this case a administrator would be appointed.

Inheritance tax: A 40 per cent tax deducted from estates with a value of more than £325,000. Money left to your spouse or a charity is not taxed. If your spouse predeceased you and did not use up their full inheritance tax free allowance, this will be added to your own at the rate prevailing at your death.

Probate: The legal process to establish the validity of your will, the proving of your will. This allows the executors to pay bequests (legacies) sell property and generally deal with the estate. Very small estates will not necessarily require probate.

Testator/testatrix: The person making the will.

Trust: An arrangement you can make in your will to administer part of your assets after your death.