Gifts in Wills: Glossary of terms

Posted on: 28 March 2018 by 50connect editorial

This glossary of terms can help you understand the technical language you’ll see when including a gift in your Will.

Wills legal glossary

Wills, Probate, Estate Planning, Chattels. There is a lot of confusing terminology associated with finances and assets in your Will. Here is our estate planning jargon buster, which we hope will help clarify certain terms and phrases.


These are the possessions you own. These include property, money and belongings.


A person or organisation who receives a gift from your Will.

Bequest / Legacy

A gift of money, property or other asset in a Will.


These are personal items that you own such as furniture, jewellery or a car.


A codicil is a small amendment to your Will. It must be signed and witnessed in the same way as your Will.

Conditional Legacy

A gift which only takes effect if a specified condition is met on your death. For example, "if the gift to my sister should fail for such and such a reason, then it should instead go to my neighbour".


The term estate refers to all the assets you own, less any debts that you owe. This is also referred to as the net estate.


An executor is a person or person that you choose to administer the instructions in your Will after you die. For example, gathering your assets, paying debts, tax and any other amounts due, before distributing the remainder in accordance with the terms of your Will.

The Executor can be a solicitor, trust company, bank, charity or a friend or family member. Up to four Executors can act, and quite often the main beneficiary of your estate is named as an Executor.

Inheritance Tax (IHT)

Inheritance Tax (IHT) can be paid following your death on the value of your estate (and can also include the value of substantial lifetime gifts you have made and some types of trust funds).

Your solicitor or Institute of Professional Will Writers member will be able to guide you through this, and more importantly, they can tailor this advice to your particular circumstances.

If you would like more information, you can download the BHF guide on how IHT works in relation to estates which include charitable gifts.


If you die without having made a Will, you are said to have died intestate.

If someone makes a Will but it is not legally valid, the estate is then subject to the rules of intestacy.


If you make a bequest or leave a legacy in your Will, you are referred to as the legator.


Obligations (debts) which may need to be settled after your death.

Life Interest Trust

A type of gift you can make in you Will, giving named beneficiaries (often family members) the right to benefit from the gift for the rest of their lives, either by allowing them use of an asset (e.g. occupation of a house) or by receiving the income from it (e.g. rent from a house, or income from an investment fund).

Other beneficiaries, often charities, receive the asset after they have died. It is sometimes also called a reversionary legacy.

Mirror Will

This is when a husband, wife or partner make almost identical Wills leaving for example, everything to each other should one partner die, and if both die together then direct to another agreed beneficiary.

Pecuniary Legacy

A fixed sum of money. To prevent its real value decreasing over time this gift can be linked with inflation.


Probate is the legal process during which a Will is proven in a court and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased.

It’s the first step in the legal process of administering the estate of the deceased, resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under a Will.


Everything that is left in the estate after all the liabilities, tax, costs and legacies have been paid.

Residuary Legacy

A share, or sometimes all, of an estate after all the other payments have been made. One of the advantages of a residuary legacy is that it will not lose value over time and if you leave a proportion to us you can still ensure other beneficiaries are provided for first.

Specific Legacy

This is a gift of an object, for example a gift of a property, shares, personal belongings etc.

Testator / Testatrix

The person who has made the Will.


If your Will sets up a trust (for example a life interest trust), the trustees will be the people or organisations specified in your Will to manage the trust property according to the terms of the trust for the benefit of its beneficiaries, once the administration of the rest of your estate has been completed.

Their role is similar to the Executors of your estate and often, at least initially, will be your Executors.


A legal document by which the testator states what they want to happen with their estate following their death.

Further information

If you have any questions about leaving a legacy in your Will, you can contact the legacy team at British Heart Foundation or your solicitor.

Celebrate your life by helping others

Legacy gifts come from ordinary people, and they are crucial to funding life saving research. It's so easy to leave a gift in your Will. By remembering the BHF in your Will with a share of what remains, after family and friends have been looked after, you can help create the next medical advances. What better way to thank the people and causes that have had an impact on your life, than to make a contribution through a gift in your Will?

Sources: British Heart Foundation, Citizens Advice Bureau

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