Glossary of estate planning terms

Here we will explain the most common legal terms and phrases that are used when someone dies that you may come across when dealing with their Will or estate.

What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document that outlines a person’s wishes about what should happen to their estate when they die.

What is a testator?

A testator is the person who has made a Will.

What is an attorney?

An attorney is the person appointed in a Lasting Power of Attorney to handle the affairs of someone should they become incapable of doing so whilst still living.

What is the estate?

An estate is everything that they own and everything that is registered in their name. It also includes their share of any joint assets and any business assets they have in their name. The value of the estate is calculated as everything owned by the person less all of his or her liabilities, for example a mortgage or other personal debts.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process of dealing with someone’s estate after they’ve died. It involves collecting all of the person’s assets; their money, property and belongings – as well as settling debts and paying any taxes due, then sharing out what’s left as directed in the Will. It’s usually the executor of their Will who administers the estate, shares out its assets and clears its debts. To get authority to do that, they usually need to get a legal document called a ‘Grant of Probate’. For more information on how to do this, please visit the Government website on gov.uk. Probate is known as Confirmation in Scotland.

What is a Grant of Probate or Representation

A Grant of Probate or Representation is the formal court document issued by the Probate Registry that allows executors or administrators to close accounts, collect the assets of an estate and pay them out to the beneficiaries. In Scotland, the Grant of Representation is called a Confirmation. Where a Will is left, the Grant of Representation will be a Grant of Probate issued to the executor/s named in the Will. Where no Will is left, it will be Letters of Administration.

What are Letters of Administration?

Letters of Administration are the official documents that give the Administrator the right to administer the estate and take control of all the assets and liabilities that were left by the person who died, where there was no Will. You can get an application form from your local Probate Registry or online.

Who is the personal representative?

This is the general term for an executor or administrator. The personal representative is responsible for administering the estate, which means they need to collect all the assets and pay all bills and debts that need to be paid. Depending on how much money and assets the person who died had, the personal representative may need to apply for a Grant of Representation – if so, then no accounts can be closed until they have this document. The person legally responsible for dealing with the estate of a person who has died is also referred to as an Executor or an Administrator.

Who is the executor?

The executor is the person or persons named in a Will to deal with the estate following a person’s death and, if necessary, request a Grant of Probate (or Certificate of Confirmation in Scotland).

What does administrator mean?

Administrator, known as Executor Dative in Scotland, is the person who obtains Letters of Administration to deal with an estate when there is no Will. 

What is a beneficiary?

Beneficiary is the name given to the person or persons named in a trust, Will or life insurance policy to receive part or all of your estate. More than one person can be named as a beneficiary or a charity or trustee of a trust can be named as a beneficiary.

What is a trust?

A trust is an arrangement where assets are owned or held by trustees for a beneficiary until an appropriate time. 

What is a trustee?

A trustee is the person looking after assets held in a trust. 

What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is either the medical document issued by a qualified doctor, certifying the death of a person and stating the cause if known, or the legal document obtained from a registrar, confirming the date, location and cause of the person’s death.

What are funeral expenses?

Funeral expenses are all the costs and fees included in organising and delivering a funeral, including the wake, the actual funeral itself, flowers, transport and other items. If you are interested in funeral planning for yourself or other family members for the future, read our funeral planning guide that we have created with our prepaid funeral plan provider, Dignity

What does Additional Permitted Subscriptions (APS) mean?

Additional Permitted Subscriptions (APS) means the piece of legislation that the Government introduced in 2014 which announced that any accumulated ISA funds could effectively be inherited by a surviving spouse or civil partner in the form of an increased ISA allowance. Read more about ISA allowance

What is intestate/intestacy?

Intestate or intestacy means that someone has died without making a (valid) Will.


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