Glossary of terms

legal documents

When it comes to leaving a gift in your Will, there may be certain terms that you are unfamiliar with. So we’ve put together a glossary of some of the most common terms that you may come across.

If you have any questions or doubts about the information presented here, please get in touch with our legacy team or your solicitor.

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Assets

Any property, money and belongings you own.

Beneficiary

A person or organisation who receives a gift from your Will.

Bequest / Legacy

A gift of money, property or other asset in a Will.

Chattels

Personal property including furniture, belongings or a car.

Codicil

An additional document which is read with your existing Will to amend it. It must be executed (signed officially) in the same way as your Will.

It can be risky to use a Codicil as it can be lost and it also highlights amendments made to your Will.

Conditional Legacy

A gift which only takes effect if a specified condition is met on your death. For example, "if the gift to my sister should fail for such and such a reason, then it should instead go to my neighbour".

Estate

All the assets that you own, less any debts that you owe.

Executor

A person or organisation named in your Will to administer your estate (collecting your assets, paying any debts, tax and any other amounts due, and then distributing the remainder of your estate in accordance with the terms of your Will) following your death.

The Executor can be a solicitor, trust company, bank, charity or a friend or family member. Up to four Executors can act, and quite often the main beneficiary of your estate is named as an Executor.

Inheritance Tax (IHT)

A tax set by the government which may be payable on death depending on the value of the estate and intended beneficiaries. Most people do not pay IHT due to the Nil Rate Band (currently the first £325,000 of your estate) and spouses are also exempt.

Furthermore, charities are also exempt from IHT so it is possible to give your whole estate to charity without paying any IHT or reducing the IHT with a bequest to charity. For more information please see our guide to Inheritance Tax.

Intestate

To have died without having made a Will or without a valid Will.

Legator

Someone who has left a legacy in their Will.

Liabilities

Obligations (debts) which may need to be settled after you death.

Life Interest Trust

A type of gift you can make in you Will, giving named beneficiaries (often family members) the right to benefit from the gift for the rest of their lives, either by allowing them use of an asset (e.g. occupation of a house) or by receiving the income from it (e.g. rent from a house, or income from an investment fund).

Other beneficiaries, often charities, receive the asset after they have died. It is sometimes also called a reversionary legacy.

Mirror Will

This is when a husband, wife or partner make almost identical Wills leaving for example, everything to each other should one partner die, and if both die together then direct to another agreed beneficiary.

Pecuniary Legacy

A fixed sum of money. To prevent its real value decreasing over time this gift can be linked with inflation.

Probate

Probate is the legal process during which a Will is proven in a court and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased.

It’s the first step in the legal process of administering the estate of the deceased, resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under a Will.

Residue

Everything that is left in the estate after all the liabilities, tax, costs and legacies have been paid.

Residuary Legacy

A share, or sometimes all, of an estate after all the other payments have been made. One of the advantages of a residuary legacy is that it will not lose value over time and if you leave a proportion to us you can still ensure other beneficiaries are provided for first.

Specific Legacy

A gift of a particular item, such as property, antiques, jewellery and shares.

Testator / Testatrix

The person who has made the Will.

Trustee

If your Will sets up a trust (for example a life interest trust), the trustees will be the people or organisations specified in your Will to manage the trust property according to the terms of the trust for the benefit of its beneficiaries, once the administration of the rest of your estate has been completed.

Their role is similar to the Executors of your estate and often, at least initially, will be your Executors.

Will

A legal document by which the testator states what they want to happen with their estate following their death.