Glossary of terms

Administration

The collection of assets, payments of debts and distribution to the beneficiaries in the estate of a deceased person.

Administrator

A person appointed by the court to collect and distribute a deceased person’s estate when the deceased has died intestate, his will did not appoint an executor, or the executor refuses to act. An administrator’s authority to deal with the estate does not begin until the court has granted letters of administration.

Administratrix

A female administrator.

Adoption

The process by which a parent’s legal rights and duties in respect of an unmarried minor are transferred to another person or persons.

Bachelor

An unmarried man.

Beneficiary

A person entitled to benefit from a will or trust.

Bona vacantia

Property not disposed of by a deceased’s will to which there is no relation entitled on intestacy. Under section 46 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925, such property passes to the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall.

Civil partner

A new legal status, created by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, that confers analogous rights to those conferred by marriage on same sex couples who register their relationship.

Class gift

A gift to people of a certain specified category (e.g. “to my daughters”), rather than people named individually (e.g. “to my daughters A and B”).

Class of kin

A category of persons entitled under the rules applying to intestacy. For example the deceased’s uncles and aunts of the whole blood and, where predeceased, their issue

Distribution

The process of handing over to the beneficiaries their entitlements under a deceased person’s will or on his intestacy.

Estate

The aggregate of all the property left by the deceased.

Executor

A person appointed by a will to administer the testator’s estate. They must usually obtain a grant of probate from the court in order to prove the will and their right to deal with the estate.

Executrix

A female executor.

Gift over

A provision in a will or other settlement enabling an interest in property to come into existence on the termination or failure of a prior interest. An example of such a provision would be a gift “to my wife during her lifetime and on her death to my brother”. The provision for the brother is the gift over.

Half blood

People who share only one ancestor are said to be of the half blood.

Heir at law (Heir)

One of the statutory next of kin.

Intestacy

The state in which a person dies without having made a will disposing of all his property.

Intestacy rules

The law which governs the manner in which an intestate estate is to be administered, the persons entitled to inherit, and the amounts and proportions of the estate they receive. The rules reflect the importance accorded to familial relationships.

Intestate

A person whose estate passes on an intestacy. A total intestacy occurs when the deceased leaves no will at all, a will that appoints only executors but does not dispose of any property, or a will that is invalid (e.g. because the testator lacked testamentary capacity).

Issue

The children or other lineal descendants of a person.

Jurisdiction

The territory in which the deceased died.

Legacy

A gift or personal property effected by will.

  • A general legacy is a gift or property not identifiable with a specific asset (e.g. “£1,000 to A”).
  • A specific legacy is a particular identifiable object (e.g. “my Picasso to B”).
  • A demonstrative legacy is payable from a specific fund (e.g. “£500 from my current account”).
  • A pecuniary legacy is a gift of a cash sum.
  • A residuary legacy is one that disposes of the whole of the testator’s personal property after payment of debts and specific, demonstrative, and general legacies.

Legatee

The person to whom a legacy is given.

Letters of administration

Authority granted by the court to a specified person to act as an administrator of a deceased person’s estate when the deceased dies intestate.

Missing beneficiary indemnity insurance

An insurance policy taken out by the executor or administrator to protect themselves from future claims by unknown beneficiaries. Such policies can usually only be obtained when all reasonable to steps to find all the beneficiaries have been taken.

Partial intestacy

Arises when a will deals with only part of the testator’s estate.

Personal representative

A person entitled to deal with a deceased person’s estate in accordance with his will or under the rules of intestacy. Personal representatives include executors and administrators of all descriptions.

Probate

A document issued by the Family Division of the High Court, on the application of executors appointed by a will, to the effect that the will is valid and that the executors are authorised to administer the deceased’s estate.

Predeceased

A beneficiary who dies before the deceased is said to have predeceased. On cases of intestacy the issue of a predeceasing heir receive the share that their parent would have received had he survived. Where there is a will the testator may have included a clause stating what should happen in the event of a legatee having predeceased.

Probate genealogy

The research of family histories with the aim of finding missing or unknown heirs to estates. Solicitors, executors and administrators employ professional firms of probate genealogists to ensure that all beneficiaries are accounted for.

Public domain

The wider world. Estates often appear in the public domain having been advertised. For example, the bona vacantia department of the Treasury Solicitor regularly advertises estates in the press and online. Estates are often researched speculatively once in the public domain by firms of heir hunters. Moore Probate research does not research estates which appear in the public domain.

Residuary estate (Residue)

The property comprising a deceased’s person’s estate after the payment of his debts, funeral expenses, costs of administering the estate, and all specific (and demonstrative) bequests and devices. If a will does not dispose of the whole of a testator’s property, the residue passes to those entitled under the rules applying to intestacy.

Sibling

The brother or sister of a person.

Spinster

An unmarried woman.

Spouse

A person’s lawfully married husband or wife.

Statutory legacy

Under section 47 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925, the legacy to which a surviving spouse is entitled on an intestacy. Where the intestate leaves a surviving spouse and issue, the spouse receives a legacy of £250,000 before the division of the residue. Where there are no children the spouse receives a legacy of £450,000.

Statutory next of kin

The persons entitled under the rules applying to intestacy.

Testate

Having left, at one’s death, a legally valid will.

Testator

A person who makes a will.

Testatrix

A female testator.

Time and expenses

A method of charging for services in which the service provider’s fee is calculated on the basis of time spent plus the expenses incurred in completing the work, recharged at cost.

Trust

An agreement in which a person (the settlor) transfers property to one or more trustees, who will hold it for the benefit of one or more persons (the beneficiaries).

Whole blood

People descended from two common ancestors are said to be of the whole blood.

Will

A document by which a person appoints executors to administer his estate after his death, and directs the manner in which it is to be distributed to the beneficiaries he specifies.

Will Trust

A trust created under the terms of a will.

Legal terms defined as per Oxford Dictionary of Law (7th ed. 2009)