A Guide to Wills and Probate Terminology

What are we talking about: a plain English guide to solicitor-speak


A list of terms we may use when you instruct us with regard to making a Will, dealing with probate or setting up a power of attorney.


Someone who has been appointed to manage the estate of someone who has died without leaving a will.


Something owned


Someone who benefits from a will, a trust or a life insurance policy.


To give something to a person in a will.


Something given in a will.

Bona vacantia

Goods or an estate not belonging to anybody.


Someone's ability to enter into a legal agreement.


Amendment to or addition of an existing will.

Compos Mentis

Of sound mind.

Contingent legacy

A gift in a will which will only be made if certain conditions are met.

Discretionary trust

A trust in which the trustees can decide who will benefit from the trust and how much they will get.

Donatio mortis causa

Gift made by a dying person with the intention that the person receiving the gift will keep the gift on the donor’s death.

Lasting power of attorney (LPA)

A document which gives authority to a person appointed to act for the person who signed the power of attorney, if they are no longer capable of dealing with their own affairs.


All a person owns at the date of their death; or the right to use land for a period of time.


A person who is named in a Will who has the responsibility of making sure that the will is administered in accordance with the deceased’s wishes. This can be a solicitor, a family member or a friend.

Grant of probate

A court certificate proving that the executors of a will are entitled to deal with the estate.


A person appointed to look after the interests of a child or of someone who is not capable of looking after their own affairs.


When someone dies without leaving a will.


Person who dies without making a will.

Joint tenancy

Two or more people having identical shares in land.

Joint will

A single will which two or more people make to cover all their estates.


A gift left to someone in a will not including land.


The person who receives a legacy.

Letters of administration

An authority the High Court gives to a person to deal with a dead person's estate. It is given when someone dies intestate.

Life interest

An interest which will pass to someone else when the present owner dies.

Life tenant

Someone entitled to use property for their life.

Life tenant

Beneficiary of a life estate.

Personal representative

Person who administers the estate of a deceased person. Where a person dies without a will, the court appoints an administrator. A personal representative named in a will is called an executor.

Power of attorney

A document which authorises one or more people to handle someone else’s affairs.  This can be indefinite or for a limited time to deal with a specific situation.


Authority to deal with a dead person's estate.

Probate law

The law which regulates wills and other matters related to the distribution of a deceased person's estate.

Probate Registry

The registry which deals with the forms which are needed when someone applies for probate.


When property is given, usually by a will or a deed, on a trust for the benefit of people decided by the settlor.


A financial arrangement under which property or money is held by named people on behalf of someone else.

Trust deed

A legal document which is used to create, change or control a trust.


A person who holds property and looks after it on behalf of someone else.


A legal document which people use to leave as a gift money and property when they die.

Faye  Lowery
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