Breaking through the legal jargon of Will Writing

The terminology associated with writing your Will has been used for almost 200 years and is littered with terms which are old fashioned, written in legalese and even contain some Latin phrases.

The terminology might sound very serious and official, but if nobody really understands what they mean, why are we continuing to use them?

Some people fear that they won’t understand the over complicated legal jargon used when making their Will and simply avoid doing it. But please don’t be put off by this! 

Here’s an explanation of some of the Will Terminology:

We’ve gathered together a list of some of the phrases that you may come across when making your Will or dealing with someone’s estate after they have passed away:

  • Testator – the term used for the person making a Will.
  • Assets – the ‘property’ owned by person who has made the Will.
  • Estate – the entirety of all the deceased’s assets.
  • Intestate/Intestacy – if you pass away without a Will.
  • Executor – the people appointed in your Will to deal with everything on your death in accordance with your Will.
  • Beneficiary – a person that benefits from the Will.
  • Guardian – the people you appoint to look after your children if you pass away before your children have reached the age of 18.
  • Trustee – the people that you appoint to manage the Trust.
  • Chattels – items of personal property, for example, jewellery, art and clothes.
  • Bequest – a gift left in a Will.
  • Legacy – a gift of a specific item or cash sum you leave in your Will (except property).
  • Pecuniary legacy – a gift of money.
  • Specific legacy – a gift of a specific item under a Will eg. jewellery
  • Chargeable gift – a gift in a Will that Inheritance Tax will need to be paid on.
  • Residue – everything you own after everything else has been taken care of, typically, funeral costs, debts, Inheritance Tax, other taxes, legacies, bequests.
  • Residuary beneficiary – a person entitled to the residue of an estate
  • ‘En ventre sa mere’ – meaning ‘in the womb’ and would cover any children or grandchildren that had been conceived but not yet born.
  • 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.
  • Predeceased – someone who passes before the person who has made the Will 
  • Deed of Variation – a legal document that allows beneficiaries to change the terms of a Will after someone has passed away.
  • Trust – a legal arrangement you can make to protect your assets and loved ones after you have passed away.

This is by no means a complete list but hopefully it helps to explain some of the confusing terms you might hear.

Sadly, it is common for our clients to present us with their existing Will stating that they do not understand them.  With this in mind, we will always explain all of our advice in clear language (much like the above) and also provide a commentary alongside our documents to explain their terms.

Is the current Will terminology recognised as a problem?


It is widely recognised that the law governing Wills and Will terminology isn’t working in today’s modern world especially with our blended families, increased property values and complicated estate ownerships eg. business interests, rental properties etc.

The Law Commission is currently undertaking 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 contribute here

It is currently estimated that over 40% of the adult population in the UK is currently at risk of dying Intestate (see above for the meaning).  Please don’t be one of them if the main reason for not making your Will has been due to the confusing terminology…..we can easily help you with this.

If you have any questions or we can help you with anything in the above article, please feel free to get in touch on:

T: 01953 711950