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What does Probate mean? Why do I need an Attorney?

When I speak to my clients about doing a Will or a Lasting Power of Attorney, I try and make sure that we go right back to basics and I explain the terms which are bandied around and which very often people do not understand.

Below is a glossary of terms which I hope will help you understand the meanings of some commonly used legal language.


Legal Terms – And What They Mean


  • ASSET – An item of property owned by a person or a company.  It can mean money in a bank account or a house.
  • BENEFICIARY – A beneficiary is a person who receives money or property, or any other assets, under a Will or Trust.
  • CHATTELS – An item of personal property.
  • ESTATE – All of your money and property owned at death.
  • EXECUTOR – A person who is legally responsible for carrying out the instructions of a Will.
  • FUNERAL WISHES – Some people like to specify what kind of funeral they would like, for example, cremation or burial.  If you have more complicated funeral instructions to include the type of service you would like or some music you would want to have playing, then they should be written in a LETTER OF WISHES which can sit with your Will.
  • GRANT OF PROBATE – This is a legal document that is needed to deal with the bank account or house of someone who has died.
  • GUARDIAN – If you have children under the age of 18, then you may wish to add a note in your Will appointing someone to look after your children in the event that you die before they turn 18. 
  • INHERITANCE TAX – A tax paid on your estate when you die, and if you are worth over £325,000 or more if you are married.  The tax is set at 40%.
  • INTESTACY - This occurs when a person dies without leaving a Will.  Under the intestacy rules, their estate will be given away to certain people in a certain order.
  • JOINT TENANTS – This means an asset which is owned by two or more people jointly and they own the whole asset together rather than a specific share.  The upshot of this is that if one joint owner dies, then that asset will automatically pass to the other joint owner or owners.  This is different to TENANTS IN COMMON (see below).
  • LASTING POWER OF ATTORNEY - A document that allows you to appoint another person or people to look after your affairs if you lose your mental capacity.  In short, if you have a stroke or get dementia, then someone can speak on your behalf.
  • LEGACY – A gift that you may leave in your Will to another person or beneficiary.
  • LETTER OF WISHES - A document drawn up to accompany your Will.  Unlike a Will, it is not legally binding but provides guidance to the Executors dealing with your Estate.
  • PECUINARY LEGACY – A gift of money.
  • RESIDUE - Anything that remains after all debts, liabilities, gifts and administration fees have been paid.
  • SPECIFIC LEGACY – A gift of a specific item, maybe a necklace or a piece of furniture.
  • SPOUSE – Your husband or wife. The second one of a couple to die is known as a SURVIVING SPOUSE.
  • TENANTS IN COMMON – This means that an asset is owned by two or more people in specific shares.  When one person dies, their share will not automatically go to the other owner or owners unless it is in their Will. 
  • TRUST – A trust is a legal arrangement where one person holds onto and manages money or property, for another person. The first person does not own that money or property but they are looking after it for the benefit of another person.
  • TRUSTEE – The person who manages the Trust, as described above.
  • WILL – A Will is a legal document that sets out how you would like your money and house to be given away when you die. In a Will you can also set out wishes about your funeral and the guardianship of your children if they are under the age of 18.


If you have any questions or queries about the making of a Will or dealing with an Estate, please contact the Private Client team on 01905 723561 or email us at

Added: 14 Mar 2024 11:41

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