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Glossary of terms

When it comes to writing a Will, you might hear or read some legal and financial terms you're unfamiliar with. We've explained some of the most common terms you may come across.

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Assets - Any property, money and belongings you own, and which have value - either financially or sentimentally.

Beneficiary - A person or organisation who is named in your will as the recipient of a gift.

Bequest - A gift made in a Will, of anything other than property.

Chattels - Any item of personal property that can be moved from place to place - including furniture, belongings or a car.

Codicil - A document that acts as a supplement or amendment to your 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 or separated from your Will.

Conditional legacy - A gift which only takes effect if a specific condition is met on your death. For example, "If my brother is married at the time of my death, my house should go him. If he is unmarried, it should instead go to my sister.".

Estate - All the assets you own, minus the value of any debts that you owe.

Executor - A person or organisation named in your Will to be responsible for your estate (collecting your assets, paying any debts, tax and any other amounts due, and distributing the remainder of your estate in accordance with the terms of your Will) following your death. You can have up to four executors, and they can be a solicitor, trust company, bank, charity or a friend or family member.

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. For more information on IHT, see our guide to Inheritance Tax.

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

Legacy - A gift in your will. Unlike 'bequest', this term also covers property.

Legator - Someone who has left a legacy in their Will.

Liabilities - Financial obligations (such as debts or tax bills) which may need to be settled by your estate after your death.

Life interest trust - A type of gift you can make in your Will, giving named beneficiaries the right to benefit from the gift during their lifetimes, 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 these beneficiaries have died. This is sometimes also called a 'reversionary legacy'.

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

Pecuniary legacy - A gift of a fixed sum of money. To prevent its 'real value' decreasing over time, the amount 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 doesn't 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 are the people or organisations named in your Will, to manage this trust according to its terms. They will usually make decisions for the benefit of the trust's 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, they will be your Executors.

Will - A legal document by which a person states what they want to happen with their estate following their death.

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