Legal Guides

Common Will And Testament Terms To Learn

Will And Testament

Dealing with the death of a loved one can be challenging enough, but many families also have the added stress of navigating their last will and testament.

A will is a legal document expressing someone’s wishes for their property after their death, and it can help ensure you’re doing everything they wanted when they’re no longer here to speak for themselves.

As straightforward as their instructions might be, you can encounter many complicated and unfamiliar terms as you navigate the will execution process. Learn the following terms, and you might feel more confident as you fulfill your loved one’s final wishes.


Many people don’t realize there’s a difference between an executor and trustee. They are not the same thing, nor are these positions interchangeable. An executor is someone you select to take control of distributing your estate according to the instructions in your will after you die.

They perform tasks like gathering estate assets, paying off any owing debts, and dividing the remaining estate among beneficiaries listed in the will. Many property disputes relating to deceased estates end up in the news when deceased family members don’t make their wishes clear in a will or assign a will executor.



You might think that a trustee plays a part in a will, but they are related to asset management in living trusts. Trustees are appointed to administer a trust and manage the assets within it. They also hold onto a will-maker’s property until it can be distributed to entitled beneficiaries. Generally, most people appoint themselves as trustees of their own living trust and have another trustee to succeed them and manage their trust after they die.


A beneficiary is someone who benefits from the last will and testament or life insurance policy of someone who has passed. They are a beneficiary of a benefactor – with a benefactor being someone who provides money and resources to a person, group, or organization.


Most executors will become familiar with the term ‘probate’ early on. It’s used to describe the process for a court to examine, approve, and enact a will’s terms. The probate process typically takes several months, and fees can be associated with it. During probate, the courts will review the assets and provide a ruling on how they will be divided and distributed to the beneficiaries.

Related: What Is A Probate Lawyer: When Do You Need One



Intestate is typically only a term you’ll become familiar with if a family member or someone you know died without a legal will. In a situation in which someone dies interstate, a state probate court determines how their estate will be distributed. In most cases, they establish a hierarchy, with close relatives the first to receive assets.


Rather than a will stating, ‘I leave my car to my brother, Michael,’ it will typically note, ‘I bequeath my car to my brother, Michael.’ Bequeath is a verb in a will to describe the leaving of an asset to a particular person.

Unless you’ve been involved in will proceedings before, there’ll likely be terms you don’t understand. By familiarizing yourself with the most common ones above, you might feel more confident in navigating the emotional and daunting process of will execution.

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