A jargon-busting guide to making your will

A jargon-busting guide to making your will

When you’re drawing up your all-important will it’s easy to get stumped by confusing legal language. So we’ve come up with a plain-speak guide to all the most common terms you need, so you can be in-the-know when you head to your solicitors or start penning yours.


This is the person or organisation you are leaving something to in your will, like a family member, a friend or a charity or business you want to support. You may also hear the phrase ‘contingent beneficiary’ which is the person who will receive the benefit or property if the person named in your will has died or cannot be found.


The actual gift you want to leave to someone or an organisation. There are lots of different types of bequests you can leave but the main types of bequest are:

  • Residuary bequest: a gift made from what is left of your estate after all other gifts have been handed out and any debts paid off.
  • Pecuniary bequest: a fixed sum of money (this may decrease in value slightly though over the years due to inflation).
  • Specific bequest: a particular item or sum of money that you leave as a gift to someone. So this could be a piece of jewellery or an ornament you want someone special to have.


This is a document that allows you to make simple changes to your will if your circumstances change or you change your mind about your wishes. For example if you have new grandchildren you may want to add them in to the will or perhaps change a beneficiary if you divorce, remarry or are widowed. You can also use a codicil to change the amount of money or type of gift you want to leave or if you decide you want to leave a legacy to a charity.

Using a codicil is usually a lot cheaper than writing a new will but it’s really important to keep this safe along with the original will to avoid any complications when you’re not around. If you want to cancel your will at any point in the future, you will also need to remember to cancel to codicil.

You may find it helpful to ask a will-writing adviser or the solicitor who created your first will to give you a hand with writing your codicil and to check with them that this is the better option than writing a completely new will (which may be needed if you have a lot of changes to makes).


This is the person you name to manage any property that is inherited by someone under 18.


The total sum of your personal possessions, property and money, minus any debts or liabilities (such as bills left to pay or services received but not yet paid for).


This is the person you would like to be in charge of making sure your final wishes are carried out. These could be family members, friends, a professional or an organisation such as a bank and some charities, just someone you can trust and who you think will be able to manage the responsibility well.


Someone who would be responsible for managing the affairs of or looking after children under 18.  This is especially important to take note of if your children are under 18 or if you are the primary carer for young grandchildren as you will need to appoint a guardian to take care of them should anything happen to you.

Inheritance tax

The tax that is paid on the part of your estate that is above the threshold, which is £325,000 in 2014-2015.


The word used to describe someone who has passed away and not left a will.


Just an alternative name for a bequest, so a gift that you have left in your will.


When someone passes away, their executor will need to apply for a grant of probate. This gives them the legal right to deal with all last wishes of the person who has died and deal with their money, possessions and property (often called ‘administering the state’).

 You can use a solicitor to do this or do it yourself by filling in a probate application form, which you can download here.


What is left of your estate once any debts and taxes have been paid out and all the bequests in your will have been given out to your beneficiaries.


The name given to the person who has made a will.

Yours partners, Key Retirement, offer an estate planning service you can find more about here.

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