Wills & Probate Glossary

We understand that often legal terms can be confusing, especially when considering making a Will or dealing with someone else’s. Here at Caversham Solicitors we aim to make this process as straightforward as possible and have put together this glossary to help. 

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, like 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 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 (generally 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.

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 attorney used up till 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 (money, investments, property, personal possessions and so on) left by a deceased person.

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. For example, gifts to charities.

Grant of probate — the official court documents that confirm 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 threshold is £325,000 (until April 2015).

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

Joint tenants — this is the way spouses or civil partners commonly buy property. When one of you dies, the other will automatically inherit the whole property. Neither of you can leave your home (or a share in it) to anyone else in their will. In contrast, see tenants in common.

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 which covers both the executor(s) and the administrator(s).

Post mortem — a medical examination of a deceased person that may be necessary if the 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, the death must be registered with the Register Office, normally within five days.

Renounce executorship — apply to be released from the role of executor; 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.

Tenants in common — someone has bought a property jointly with one or more other people who may or may not be related to them. Each person owns a share in the property and if one of the owners dies, that person’s share passes to their heirs. In contrast, see joint tenants..

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; but 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 his 21st birthday).

Will — a properly witnessed 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.

 For any further information or help with your Will or dealing with someone else’s please contact a member of our experienced Private Client Team.