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Legal terms explained

Note that legal processes and definitions may be different in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Administrator Someone appointed by law to settle your affairs if you die intestate.

Beneficiary Anyone who receives a gift from a Will.

Bequest/legacy In the UK it generally refers to a specific legacy of a particular object (e.g. a specified painting, or item of jewellery over £500).Overseas it describes any type of legacy.

Chattels Personal belongings, including jewellery, furniture, wine, pictures, books and cars, but not monetary investments, property or business assets.

Child In Will or intestacy matters, includes the adopted and illegitimate children of the person who has died, but not their stepchildren – unless they are specifically mentioned. Legacies are often left in trust for children until they are 18, 21 or 25, rather than the legal limit of 16.

Civil Partners Registered civil partners have the same legal rights as a spouse should their partner die intestate after December 2005.

Common-law spouse A common-law spouse has no automatic legal rights to be an executor or beneficiary in English law, although a dependent partner who lived with the deceased for two or more years before their death may be able to claim a share of the estate.

Codicil A separate document altering an existing Will

The Crown Where the money goes (your estate) if you have no next of kin and did not make a Will – in reality it means HM Treasury.

Devise A gift of a house or land.

Estate (Gross) The value of what you own.

Estate (Net) The value of what you own, less what you owe

Executors The people you choose to be responsible for administering your affairs.Their appointment does not come into effect until you die.An Executor has no duties, obligations or rights in respect of the Deceased’s affairs until death has occurred.

Funeral arrangements Directions you can give in your Will (or a non-binding letter to your executors) regarding your wishes such as details of your burial, funeral service, In memoriam gifts to charity in lieu of flowers, etc.

Inheritance Tax A 40% tax payable on estates over a certain threshold, currently £325,000 (2013/2014). Gifts to churches and charities are exempt from Inheritance Tax and can be used to reduce the value of an estate for inheritance tax purposes.

Intestate A term to describe someone who has died without a Will. The estate is then distributed according to a fixed legal formula.

Issue All the direct descendants of a person – children, grandchildren and so on.

Legacy/bequest A gift in a Will. It can be: – Specific A definite object or property (e.g. a specific car, property or painting) Pecuniary bequest A gift of a specific sum of money Personal estate All the investments and belongings of a person apart from land and buildings.

Personal representative A general term for an administrator or executor.

Probate The legal authorisation which confirms that a Will is valid. It gives the Executor(s) named in the Will proof of their right to administer the estate, according to the deceased’s wishes.

Probate Registry A court within the Family Division of the High Court which deals with probate and administration matters. The Principal Registry is in London and there are district registries in other cities and some large towns. It checks the validity of all Wills and registers them in a central database. See www.hmcourts-service.gsi.gov.uk then in search put in The Probate Service.

Proving the Will Making the application for probate to the Probate Registry

Real estate Land and buildings owned by a person

Residue/Residuary Estate What is left in your estate after all bequests and legacies and after debts, tax and costs have been paid

Residuary Legacy An instruction in your Will which explains what should happen to the residue of the estate i.e. that it should be divided into 10 equal shares and distributed amongst a list of named beneficiaries

Specific Legacy Particular, tangible items (e.g. family heirlooms) left as gifts in a Will.See Legacy.

Testator The person making the Will.Female form is Testatrix.

Trust An arrangement you can make in your Will to administer part of your assets after your death.For more complicated Trust provisions, you should contact a local solicitor who specialises in trusts and probate.

Will The document in which you say what will happen to your money and possessions after your death.

Witness Two witnesses must see you sign your Will and you must also watch both of them sign it.They must also watch each other sign the Will.No beneficiary (or their spouse) should sign the Will; if they do, any gift to them or their spouse will be invalid and will fail.An Executor can be a witness provided they are not also a beneficiary.