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Jargon buster

Unless you’re a legal lemon, these complex terms can definitely make you feel cloudy. Our jargon buster will help you understand some of the formal language associated with writing a will and won’t leave you feeling like a sourpuss. Remember too that this isn’t intended to be legal advice.

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Beneficiary

A person (or maybe a cat), or organisation, who you’ve left something to in your Will.

Codicil

No, it’s not medication: it refers to a legal document that lets you make minor changes to your current Will.

Executor

After you’ve died, you’ll need someone to carry out your wishes, (ensuring your brother gets your vinyl collection, the cat and his fave chair go to your aunty, and your partner the millions). This is what an Executor does.

Estate

All your personal possessions (including any country estates you may own). It covers property, money in current and savings accounts, investments, stocks and shares, vehicles, jewellery and even pets.

Estate planning

It may sound like it’s for people living in grand country piles, but ‘estate planning’ is another way of saying  ‘writing a will’. That said, a will is technically one part of ‘estate planning’. You may want to establish a Trust for a child, or specify what happens to your medical and financial needs in advance. (also see Lasting Power of Attorney).

Inheritance

Money, property or a personal possession that someone receives from a Will.

Inheritance Tax

Even in death, you can’t escape taxes. Inheritance tax is applicable on estates worth over £325,000. For estates of more than that a will is important for making sure you pay the taxman what he’s owed, but not more than that.

Intestate

It’s not a male health issue. Intestate refers to dying without a Will, or if a Will is declared invalid. There are laws to determine who gets what, based on family connections. They won’t take into account your actual relationships.

When someone dies intestate

If there’s one reason above any other to make a Will, it’s this: dying intestate can be a pain in the bum for those left behind. (Seriously, make your Will now - you could get hit by a meteorite while reading this section.)
 
There’s no avoiding the mess of intestacy. The law is complex. Your spouse or civil partner may not get what you expect them to receive. (And with more of us cohabiting or living as blended families, rather than married couples, the picture gets even messier.) Your children can end up fighting over your legacy. Plus, if you die intestate, you make the Taxman happier. (Bet that’s got your attention.)
 
Even if your family promises not to fight over your garden gnome collection, intestacy can lead to long delays in getting Probate. (Probate is a legal process to prove your Will is valid so your Executor can administer your Estate.)
 
Intestacy can also increase the due tax, reducing your estate’s overall value. This is why a Will is recommended for even the most liberal definition of a ‘family’.
 
And remember to keep your Will valid. Review it around every 3-5 years to ensure it reflects any changes to legislation, your family, and your intent.

Tip:
Each year, you have to renew your insurance. Set some time aside on this day to think about whether your Will also needs a review.

Legacy

No prizes for guessing that this is something you leave to someone or an organisation in your will. There are three kinds of legacy.

Pecuniary legacy 

A set sum of cash


Specific legacy

A specific item, such as an heirloom, jewelry, or property.


Residuary legacy

A percentage of all you own once pecuniary legacies, specific legacies, debts and legal fees have been paid.

Note: if you’re thinking of leaving a gift to a charity, it’s recommended you leave a Pecuniary or Specific Legacy. Complications can arise if you leave a percentage of your estate as a Residuary legacy.

Legacy planning

You can use your will to benefit future generations of your family. 60% of an estate is lost by the second generation and 90% by the third. You don't have to be wealthy to benefit from legacy planning.

Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)

This lets you appoint someone (a trusted family member or close friend) to help with your medical needs and finances should you fall ill or become incapacitated before you die. Learn more.

Probate

This is the legal process someone must follow to receive the authority to deal with your Estate as you intended. Your Executor will apply for a Grant of Probate. If there isn’t a will, the Administrator will apply for the Grant of Probate. Without a Grant of Probate, no one will have the legal authority to sort out your estate. That said, Probate may not be needed depending on the value of your Estate, and if your assets are in your sole name.

Residue

This refers to what’s left of your estate after any debts and legacies have been covered.

Trust

A Trust is a way to protect all, or part, of your estate that you want to pass on to someone at a future date. For instance, say you want to leave a cash sum to someone aged 14. Using a Trust, you can specify when that sum becomes available. For instance, when they turn 18 or 21, or you could use it to encourage them to attend college or university.

Trustee

If you use your will to create a Trust, you’ll need to appoint someone to manage it. This is the 'Trustee'. The Trustee manages the Trust on behalf of its 'beneficiaries' - those who receive the income of the trust. You can appoint more than one Trustee.

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