A guide to wills and probate terminology

With current terms used in Will documentation having been around for about 200 years, its not surprising that these old fashioned terms are confusing. We've created this quick read guide to get you clued up on all the terminology being used.

General Terms

Here we’ve listed some of the common phrases that you may come across when making your will with Will Services or dealing with the estate of someone who has passed away.



  • A person that benefits from the will


Chargeable gift

  • A gift in a will that Inheritance Tax will need to be paid on


  • Movable items of personal property – jewellery, art, clothes…


  • 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


  • A payment made to a third party.



  • 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.



Joint Tenants

  • If you want to co-own a house with somebody else, you can own it equally as joint tenants, meaning that both of you own the entire property, rather than just a specific share of it. When one partner of a joint tenancy dies, the surviving co-owner of the property becomes the legal owner of the entire property.


  • A gift of a specific item or cash sum left in a will (except property).

Living Will

  • A living will (now legally referred to as an ‘advance decision’ or ‘advance statement’ in the UK) is a legal document whereby you are able to outline instructions that must be followed if ever you lose the capacity to make or communicate your own informed decisions about having medical treatment.  


  • A Lasting Power of Attorney is someone that has the legal right or authority to make decisions on behalf of another individual regarding their every-day affairs, including finances, housing, healthcare, and anything else that impacts the quality of their life. 

Mental Capacity Act 2005

  • The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) is designed to protect and empower people who may lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions about their care and treatment. It applies to people aged 16 and over.

Next of kin

  • In the UK, there is no specific legal definition to define the meaning of ‘next-of-kin’ (sometimes referred to as ‘next to kin’) and to explain exactly who it should be. The Cambridge Dictionary, however, defines it as the following: “The person or group of people you are most closely related to.”

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.

POA / Power of Attorney 

  • POA is an acronym for Power of Attorney, which is a term used to refer to a legal document that gives someone (the attorney - sometimes known as the attorney in fact or agent) the legal authority to make sensible decisions and act on behalf of someone else (known as the donor - the person who has set up the POA).


  • Someone who dies before the person who has made the will – usually a beneficiary.


  • 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.

Tenants in Common

  • A tenants in common agreement means that each co-owner of the property owns a specific share of it. Generally, if a couple are tenants in common, they will decide to own a 50% share of the property each, but it is possible for each tenant in common to own a different portion to the other (60% : 40%, for example) - this is the primary difference between a joint tenancy and a tenancy in common.


  • The person who has made the will.



  • The people that you appoint to manage the trust.
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