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Find our more about free and discounted will-writing services here. Don't forget to quote 'Embrace' when you book an appointment.

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Glossary of terms

The following is a list of some of the most commonly used terms in the will-making process.

Administrator. If you fail to leave a will, the administrator is the person who distributes your estate, pays off debts and liabilities, deals with the probate registry and, if necessary, HM Revenue and Customs and other interested organisations. The process of sorting out your affairs is called ‘administration’.

Beneficiary. A person or organisation that benefits from your will.

Bequest. A gift included in your will, also known as a legacy.

Codicil. A testamentary document which is signed in the same way as a will. A codicil supplements the terms of an existing will, either by adding to it, amending it or revoking part of it.

Estate. The total of everything you own at the time of your death. Your ‘net estate’ is the figure after all your debts and liabilities have been deducted.

Executor(s). The person(s) you appoint in your will to ensure that the wishes stated in your will are carried out. Being an executor does not prevent a person benefiting from the will.

Inheritance tax. This is a tax which may be payable on the value of your estate if the total is over a certain threshold at the time of your death, and on the value of gifts you have made during your lifetime. There are exemptions and allowances. This tax was formerly known as death duties or capital transfer tax.

Intestate. A person is said to have died intestate if they have made no will, made an invalid will or if any will they have made is revoked or does not dispose of any property. Their estate is distributed in accordance with intestacy rules. These strict rules dictate who are the administrators and beneficiaries, and how much they each get.

Legacy. A gift included in your will, also known as a ‘bequest’.

Pecuniary legacy/bequest. A fixed sum of money left in a will.

Probate/grant of probate. A court order which establishes whether or not your will is legally valid. It also establishes the authority of your executors to distribute and administer your estate.

Residuary legacy/or bequest. A gift of all or part of the remainder (residue) of your estate once all debts, liabilities, pecuniary legacies and specific gifts have been settled.

Residue. The amount of money left in your estate after all debts, tax, costs and legacies have been accounted for.

Specific legacy/bequest. A specific piece of property given in your will (such as a car, painting, piano or jewellery, but not money).

Testament. Another name for will.

Testator. The person who makes the will.

Will. A testamentary document naming the people who will deal with your property and affairs after your death, and setting out how your property and finances should be distributed.

Witness. An independent person, not a beneficiary or executor, or the spouse of either, who watches you sign your will and then signs it in your presence. You must have two witnesses to your will for it to be valid. (Note: different rules apply in Scotland.)

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