Probate jargon buster

If you’re carrying out probate for the first time you’re likely to encounter a range of unfamiliar legal terms. Find out what some of the most commonly used probate jargon means in our A-Z glossary.

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A

Administration period

Also known as the period of administration, it starts the day after the person dies and finishes when the executor or administrator has settled the estate.

Administrator/administratrix

If there is no will, the responsibility for dealing with a deceased person’s estate usually falls to their next of kin. If a man takes on this role, he is known as the administrator; a woman is known as the administratrix.

Attestation clause

A clause that appears at the end of a will confirming it’s been formally signed in accordance with the Wills Act 1837.

Every professionally-prepared will needs to have an attestation clause at the end, with two witnesses’ signatures beside it. This is also where any anomalies, such as there being a mark rather than a signature from the deceased due to their being unable to read or write at the time of signing, should be explained.

B

Beneficiaries

The people, organisations or charities who are left legacies or gifts under the will, a trust or the intestacy rules.

C

Capital gains tax

A tax payable on the increase in value of certain assets, such as property and investments, from the time they were bought to the moment they are sold or given away. Find out more in our guide to capital gains tax.

Caveat

A legal document used to prevent an executor obtaining a grant of probate. It’s usually lodged by someone if there is a question over the validity of the will, there’s a dispute between the executors and/or other parties affected by the will or there are concerns about fraud.

A caveat will remain in place for six months until or unless it’s removed voluntarily by the person who lodged it or by a court order. If the issue still hasn’t been resolved, caveats can be renewed after six months for a cost of £20.

Chargeable lifetime transfers (CLTs)

These are transfers that are immediately liable for inheritance tax and therefore could have incurred inheritance tax at the lifetime rate (20%) when made.

Chattels

Personal belongings such as furniture, jewellery and other personal effects, but not including money or investments.

Child of the testator

Legally, those who are recognised as children of the testator (a person who has died and made a will) include legitimate and illegitimate children, adopted children (from the date of adoption), children produced by way of IVF treatment and some surrogate children. The term doesn’t automatically include step-children.

Codicil

A codicil is a document that allows a person to make small changes to their will without having to rewrite it from scratch. It has to be signed in front of two witnesses and kept together with the original will.

D

Deed of variation

Sometimes simply called ‘variation’, this is a way of changing a person’s will or the intestacy rules after their death, as long as any beneficiaries who will lose out as a result give their agreement. 

A deed of variation can be used for a number of reasons, such as reducing the amount of inheritance tax or capital gains tax payable, or providing for someone who was left out of the will.

Digital assets

Digital products owned by a person, including images, photos, videos, data and text files.

Discretionary trust

A trust in which the number of shares allocated to each beneficiary is at the discretion of the trustees. Discretionary trusts can be set up as a way of making provisions for beneficiaries to pass money to young children at a later date, or for beneficiaries who aren’t in a position to be entrusted with the money themselves.

Domicile

The country or location that is recognised as someone’s permanent home.

E

Estate

The property, money and possessions of the deceased.

Estate accounts

A set of accounts that record all the finances dealt with from the date of someone’s death to the conclusion of their estate, including all assets and any liabilities. It’s up to the executor or the administrator to prepare the estate accounts.

Estate administration

This is the final part of the probate process. It involves gathering together all the assets and belongings, settling any outstanding debts, and distributing what’s left over to the beneficiaries as directed by the will. If no will was left, the estate will need to be distributed according to the intestacy rules. Find out more in our guide to estate administration.

Executor/executrix

The person or people appointed in a will to deal with a deceased person’s estate. A man who takes on this role is known as the ‘executor’ and a woman is called an ‘executrix’.

G

Gifts with Reservation of Benefit (GROBs, also known as Gifts with Reservation or GWRs)

These are gifts made during the lifetime of the deceased, and on or after 18 March 1986, where the deceased continued to use the property they had gifted until their death.

Grant of probate

A grant issued to the executors named in a person’s will, confirming their authority to deal with the estate. In many cases, a grant of probate must be obtained before any of the person’s belongings can be sold, given away or disposed of in any other way. Find out more in our guide to obtaining a grant of probate.

Grant of representation (or grant)

A document issued by the court confirming a personal representative’s right to deal with the estate.

If there is a valid will, the grant of representation is a grant of probate (see above); if not, it’s a different grant known as ‘letters of administration’.

Guardian

A will may name someone to take parental responsibility for the welfare of and decision-making concerning any children aged under 18 at the time of the testator’s death. The person appointed to do this is known as a testamentary guardian.

I

Inheritance tax (IHT)

This tax is payable on the net value of a deceased person’s estate after eligible debts and liabilities, exemptions and reliefs have been accounted for. Find out more in our guide to inheritance tax.

Insolvent

An estate is classed as insolvent when the debts exceed the value of the assets.

Issue

A noun meaning all of a person’s lineal descendants, ie their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

L

Legacy

A specific item, piece of property or amount of money left to a named person or organisation in a will.

Letters of administration

If no will has been left, the role of dealing with a deceased person’s estate typically falls to their nearest surviving relative, who becomes known as the administrator.

To be able to proceed, they’ll need a formal grant known as ‘letters of administration’. They can then distribute the estate in accordance with the rules of intestacy.

N

Nil-rate band

Also known as Nil-rate threshold, this is the portion of an estate’s value that is exempt from inheritance tax.

P

Personal representative

The catch-all term for anyone in charge of administering a deceased person’s estate. If there is a valid will, the personal representative is known as an executor. If not, the personal representative will usually be the next of kin, who becomes known as an administrator.

Potentially exempt transfers (PETs)

These are gifts the deceased person made to individuals before his or her death. No tax is due at the time the gifts are made, but it will be payable if the deceased dies less than seven years after making the gift.

Probate Registry

The branch of the courts that deals with probate matters.

Pecuniary legacy

Any money distributed from a deceased person’s estate.

R

Realising assets

The process of selling assets and so converting them into cash.

Residuary beneficiaries

A person or organisation that receives all or a share of what’s left over in an estate after specific legacies have been distributed.

Residue

Everything left in an estate once all debts, liabilities, taxes, costs and legacies have been paid.

Rules of intestacy

If someone dies without leaving a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’ and the rules of intestacy determine who receives their assets. Find out more in our guide to the rules of intestacy.

S

Section 27 notice

A notice that executors and administrators can place in the Gazette to protect themselves against liability from claims on the estate made by unknown beneficiaries (in accordance with Section 27 of the Trustee Act 1925). Find out more in our guide to estate administration.

Statutory trusts

When there is no valid will and the rules of intestacy apply, a statutory trust may be set up for children under 18 who stand to inherit a portion of the estate. The trust is held until the child turns 18, when their shares of the estate are transferred to them personally.

Substitutional beneficiary

A person who will receive a gift in place of the beneficiary originally named in the will, if that beneficiary dies before the testator.

T

Testamentary capacity

In making a will, a person must have the capacity to understand:

  • that a will deals with the distribution of his or her estate after death
  • approximately what assets and liabilities he or she has
  • the people he or she may wish to benefit from the will.
Testator/testatrix

The person whose will is being processed (male/female forms).

Testimonium clause

The wording used in the last section of the will, which appears just above the testator’s signature.

Transferable nil rate band

The percentage of a deceased person’s late spouse or civil partner’s unused nil rate band available on their death, which can be transferred as an additional relief from the inheritance tax due on the deceased’s estate.

Trustees

People or trust corporations (such as a bank) appointed to administer any trusts created by a will or arising under the rules of intestacy.

Trusts

A trust is a gift to a named person or people (trustees) who manage those assets for a deceased’s chosen beneficiaries, who may not be able to manage the assets themselves, such as young children.

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