Guide to Will terminology

Current Will terminology has been in use for almost 200 years and is littered with old fashioned terms, confusing legalese and exotic sounding Latin phrases.

Which sounds all very serious and official but if no one really understands what they mean why are we using them?

In fact, one of the (many!) reasons that people shy away from making their Will is a fear that the won’t understand the over complicated Will terminology used. That the confusing legal jargon used will mean that they are unable to decipher their Wills and ultimately unsure that it will deliver the outcome that they want. So, they just don’t do it.

Glossary of Weird Will Terminology

Here we’ve gathered together a list of some of the weird and wonderful phrases that you may come across when making your Will or dealing with a deceased estate.

  • Assets
    Property owned by person who has made the Will
  • Beneficiary
    A person that benefits from the Will
  • Bequest
    A gift left in a Will
  • Chargeable gift
    A gift in a Will that Inheritance Tax will need to be paid on
  • Chattels
    Movable items of personal property – jewellery, art, clothes…
  • Codicil
    A document/letter that amends (rather than replaces) a Will. A codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same way as a Will. To avoid disputes or contentious probates it’s more common now to simply rewrite the Will.
  • Deed of Variation
    Legal document that allows beneficiaries to change the terms of a Will
  • Disbursement
    A payment made to a third party.
  • Estate
    The entirety of all the deceased’s assets.
  • Executor
    A person or persons appointed in the Will to administer the estate.
  • Gift over clause
    If your beneficiary is unable or unwilling to accept their bequest you can nominate a secondary recipient.
  • Guardian
    Someone appointed to look after any children of the testator in event of their death.
  • Intestate/Intestacy
    To die without a Will.
  • Legacy
    A gift of a specific item or cash sum left in a Will (except property).
  • Pecuniary legacy
    A gift of money (yes really!)
  • Per Stirpes
    A method of distributing your estate equally to family members. Often used for grandchildren, including any that may be born after your Will has been made. Also if your beneficiary predeceases you can distribute their share per stirpes (equally) between their children.
  • Predeceased
    Someone who dies before the person who has made the Will – usually a beneficiary.
  • Residue
    What’s left in the estate once EVERYTHING has been taken care of – funeral, debts, IHT, legacies, bequests etc…
  • Residuary beneficiary
    A person entitled to the residue – if there is any.
  • Specific legacy
    A gift of a specific object under a Will.
  • Testator
    The person who has made the Will.
  • Trust
    An arrangement you can make to administer part of your assets after your death.
  • Trustee
    The people that you appoint to manage the trust.

This is by no means an exhaustive list! If you come across something that you are unsure of please speak to your local solicitor or give us a call.

The death knell for Will terminology?

It’s widely recognised that Will law and Will terminology just isn’t working in the modern day and age. With over 40% of the adult population currently at risk of dying intestate The Law Commission is currently undergoing a consultation process to determine whether the law can be modernised and improved in order to encourage more people to make a Will. You can take part in the consultation here.

Plain English Wills from Future Legal Services

Here at Future Legal Services, we are on a Plain English mission. Your Will should be easy for anyone to understand, there is no need for complicated and confusing Will terminology to be used. So we don’t. All our Wills are written as simply as possible, which is the way it should be.

If you need to write your Will or have one that needs updating get in touch today on 01322 664885 or email us at and we will be happy to help.





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