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Glossary of Probate Terms

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Here is a list of rough definitions for some of the unfamiliar terms you may come across during the probate process.

Probate definitions:

Terms from A - D    Terms from E - M    Terms from N - S    Terms from T - Z

glossary a - d

Administrator

The person who is responsible for dealing with the Estate when someone dies without a Will, or where the appointed Executors are unwilling or unable to fulfil the role.

Asset

Any item of property, belongings or money owned by the deceased.

Beneficiary

A person who benefits from a Will, i.e. receives a gift.

Bequeath

The act of leaving a bequest to someone. The equivalent of 'give' in relation to a gift.

Bequest

Any type of gift left in a Will. A bequest can also be referred to as a legacy.

Chattel

Any item which is not money, i.e. furniture, clothing, jewellery, cars.

Codicil

A document used to make an amendment or addition to a Will.

Conditional or contingent legacy

A gift which is only given to a beneficiary once one or a set of conditions have been fulfilled.

Death certificate

A certificate, signed by the local registrar, giving the details of someone's death. It is technically a 'certified' copy of the entry in the death register and can be used a proof that someone has died.

Debts

Any monetary amounts that are owed by the deceased or outstanding.

Disclaimer

When a beneficiary refuses a gift. For more information, see Varying a Will.

Discretionary Trust

A trust (See trusts) where the trustees have full discretion over which beneficiaries receive what from the trust fund.

glossary e - m

Estate

The money, property and all possessions owned by the deceased person.

Estate accounts

A record of all of the financial transactions from the date of death to the date when the final payments are made to the beneficiaries. This includes values of all of the assets which made up the estate and all of the payments made using those assets.

Excepted estate

This term is used where either:

  • the estate is valued at less than the inheritance tax threshold; or
  • where no inheritance tax is paid due to spouse or charity exemptions.

Executor

The person appointed by a Will or codicil to deal with the estate. There may be more than one executor but no more than four. If there are more than four in the Will, only four will be named on the grant of probate.

General legacy

A gift of money or shares, made from the estate. This is different from a specific legacy in that no particular assets are specified or set aside for the purpose.

For example, 'I give £100 to my nephew John Elliott' is a general legacy; 'I give my gold engagement ring to my nephew John Elliott' is a specific legacy.

Grant of Letters of Administration

The document issued by the Probate Registry to appoint the person who will deal with the estate if there is no Will.

Grant of Probate

The document issued by the Probate Registry to certify the executor of the will as the person who has the right to administer the estate. The grant is used as proof of that right.

Grant of Representation

A court order which authorises a person to deal with the assets of the deceased. This is a generic term which includes:

  • a Grant of Probate
  • a Grant of Letters of Administration
  • a Grant of Letters of Administration with Will Annexed

Guardian

A person appointed to have 'parental responsibility' over a child. A guardian may be appointed where the deceased was the last surviving person who had parental responsibility.

Inheritance Tax Threshold

Inheritance tax is not payable on the total value of the estate. The inheritance tax threshold is the figure above which tax must be paid. If the total value of the estate (including some gifts which may have been made whilst the deceased was still alive) does not exceed this amount, then there is usually no tax to pay.

Insolvent estate

An estate where the total assets are smaller than the total liabilities (including debts, funeral expenses etc.). I.e., there is more money to pay out than there is money within the estate.

Intestate/ Intestacy

This describes the situation where a person dies without a valid Will. A person who writes a will is called the 'testator', if a person dies without a Will they are described as having 'died intestate'.

Interest/beneficial interest

A right to, or over, property. This is different from where a person is simply owed money, even where that debt is only repayable when something is sold.

For instance, a parent who has paid a part of the purchase price of a property for their child and expects a percentage of the proceeds when the property is sold has an 'interest' or a 'beneficial interest' in the house.

Someone who merely expects the money back, even with interest, is more likely to have given a loan than have an interest in the house.

Legacy

A gift within a Will (otherwise known as a bequest). A legacy is often used to refer to a gift of money.

Legatee

A beneficiary who receives a legacy.

Lapse

A situation where the beneficiary dies before the testator.

glossary n - s

Pecuniary legacy, gift or bequest

The gift of a sum of money.

Personal effects

The everyday chattels (see above) which the deceased owns. These would include the kitchen pots and pans, for instance, but not shares or a bank account.

Personal representatives

A generic term for both Executors and Administrators.

Power reserved

Where a person named as an executor in a Will or codicil does not wish to act as an executor. However, they reserve the right to carry out the duties at a later date.

Probate Registry

A court situated within the Family Division of the High Court. The court has local offices and Wales and issues grants of representation.

Renouncing probate renunciation

Where a person named as an executor in a Will or codicil chooses to refuse to act as the executor and signs a legal document which removes him/her from the position. Renunciation does not remove liability for any acts undertaken before the renunciation.

Residuary Beneficiary

A person, or there can be a group of residuary beneficiaries, who are entitled to the whole of the residuary estate (see below).

Residuary estate residue

Whatever is left of the estate after the debts, liabilities and expenses have been taken away, and all gifts have been made.

Specific legacy, gift or bequest

A gift which is specified in terms of which one the beneficiary will receive, i.e. if a person owns more than one car, a specific legacy can be left which states which car goes to whom.

Substitute beneficiary

A person who receives a gift only when the first person named in the Will is not alive to receive it.

Survivorship

The situation that arises where one person outlives another. The word can be used to describe a clause 'a survivorship clause' which specifies what happens when someone dies before the deceased.

glossary t - z

Testator/ testatrix

The person who has made the Will - the deceased.

Trust

A trust is an arrangement where legal ownership of an item or money is divided from the person who is entitled to the benefit or value of the asset.

The trustees legally own something and the benefit (the income, the right to use it or the sale proceeds if sold) is owned by the beneficiaries.

A trust is an entity similar to a company or partnership. Like a company, the people in charge day to day – the trustees - are not necessarily the same as the people entitled to receive the income or the sale proceeds if sold. These would be the shareholders or beneficiaries (however, they may be the same people).

Like a traditional partnership, a trust is not incorporated into a separate entity. Instead, roles (and the rights and duties which come with that role) are handed out within a deed (which may be amended over time).

For example, if a property is held on trust for children, the trustees will be the people registered at the Land Registry but the children will be the beneficiaries. The trustees can sell the property. However, as the children are entitled to the beneficial interest (see interest/beneficial interest), the trustees should only do so when it is in the best interests of the children and only in accordance with any rules contained within the trust deed.

Perhaps the most common trust is where two people own a house. For practical reasons, a trust is automatically created by law separating the names at the Land Registry (the trustees) from the people entitled to the proceeds of any sale (the beneficiaries). In most cases these will be the same people.

Will

A legal document that stipulates how someone’s property and belongings should be divided when they die. Traditionally, a Will was referred to a person's 'last Will and testament' but those words are somewhat superfluous.

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