Glossary of legal terms

Glossary of legal terms

One of the things that puts some people off writing a Will is the legal language they come across. Many of us don’t use these terms in everyday life and can find it a bit intimidating.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but does cover many of the terms referred to in these pages:


Administrator The person appointed by the court to administer your affairs if you do not leave a will.


Assets All your money, goods and possessions.


Beneficiary Anyone who receives something from a will. Could be an individual or a charity.


Bequest Also known as a legacy, it is a gift from a will.


Codicil A further document making a simple change to your existing will. It must also be drawn up legally and witnessed.


Conditional Bequest A conditional bequest is one which does not come into force unless something else happens first. For example, it could be written that a bequest goes to a person, but if she pre-deceases the person making the will it will go to their son or daughter.


Crown The official term for where your money goes if you die without leaving a will and without any next of kin. In practice, this means the Inland Revenue.


Charity legacies Gifts to charities may be made in a will. They are sometimes made to say ‘thank you’ to charities that have helped people during their lifetimes, or to support future work plans. A gift to charity in a will may be made because it is the time when many people can give a larger gift than they would ever be able to in their lifetime. A gift to charity may also be a way to offset tax liabilities as charity gifts are given tax free.


Debts outstanding Any monies that are still owed at the time of death, such as outstanding credit card balances, loans, bills for services and utilities outstanding, funeral expenses, etc. These are deducted from your assets.


Estate The total of what you leave, i.e. your assets, minus your debts.


Executor The person (or persons) you nominate to be responsible for fulfilling the terms of your will.


Inheritance Tax The tax that is liable on your estate if the total value is more than the Inheritance Tax threshold. This is currently 40% of everything above the current threshold. To see what the current threshold is, please see Her Majesty’s Revenue & Custom’s website at


In memoriam gift An in memoriam gift is where a person, or their family, specify that instead of flowers at the funeral service, they want donations which will be given to a named charity.


Intestate The term for someone who died without making a will. A partial intestacy is where the will does not cover all the estate.


Legacy A gift to a person or charity.


Legator The person who is making a Will


Pecuniary Bequest A gift of a specific amount of money.


Pledge To promise a gift (not legally binding).


Probate The legal process of ‘proving’ your will. This has to be completed before bequests may be given out.


Residue The remainder of your estate after all the debts have been paid and all your pecuniary and specific bequests made.


Residuary Bequest A gift from the residue. As the total amount available

cannot be known in advance, this is usually referred to as a percentage share of the residue.


Reversionary Bequest Used where you wish the gift to revert to the main estate if the beneficiary predeceases (dies before) you.


Specific Bequest The gift of a specific item such as jewellery, a work of art, property, shares or a memento.


Will A legal document which sets out precisely how you wish your affairs and property to be handled after your death.


Witnesses The signing a Will (or any Codicils) must be witnessed by two independent witnesses. They must be present together to witness the signing by the legator. Witnesses must not benefit from the Will in any form