Decoding Probate: Essential terms for understanding probate and estate administration

Dealing with someone’s estate after their death can involve a number of different terms. Below are some of the most commonly used words and phrases to help explain the probate and estate administration process.

A glossary of terms


Administrator – executes the winding up of an estate where someone has died without leaving a Will. Usually a beneficiary of the estate.

Assets – all items owned by the deceased, including money, property, investments and valuables.


Beneficiary – someone who will inherit from the deceased’s estate.

Bequest – a gift left to someone in a Will.


Chattel – personal property, other than money, securities or business assets.

Codicil – a legal document added to a Will. A codicil can alter or add to a Wills provisions.


Estate – all of the assets left by the deceased. This includes property, bank accounts, investments, valuable items, vehicles, pets and other personal possessions.

Estate administration –  finalisation or winding up of the deceased’s affairs. Conducted by the administrators or executors and involves obtaining a Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration where necessary. Furthermore it also involves paying all debts and other liabilities as well as calculating and paying Inheritance Tax. In addition to this the estate is valued, assets collected and any property sold. Thus follows the preparation of detailed estate accounts and distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries.

Estate accounts – the detailed accounts covering all financial transactions since the date of death. Prepared by the administrator, executor or their legal representative and includes payment of debts and sale of assets.

Excepted estate – an estate where Inheritance Tax is not payable. As a result of exemptions or because it falls below the Inheritance Tax threshold.

Executor – deals with the administration of the deceased’s estate. Appointed by the deceased in their Will.


Grant of Letters of Administration – a legal document issued by the Probate Registry. Allows the estate administrator legal authority to administer the deceased’s estate. This document is required when the deceased did not leave a Will.

Grant of Probate – a legal document issued by the Probate Registry. Provides an executor legal authority to administer the deceased’s estate. Therefore the executor will apply for this document when the deceased left a Will. However, a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration is not needed in the case of a small estate.


Inheritance Tax – tax payable on the value of an estate where it is above a set level. It is the responsibility of the administrator or executor to calculate and pay Inheritance Tax.

Intestacy – the deceased died without leaving a Will.


Legacy – another word for bequest. A a gift left to someone in a Will.


Personal representative – the estate administrator or executor.

Power reserved – where someone who is named as an executor decides not to take up the role. They reserve their right to do so at a later stage.

Probate – this is often used to refer to the whole estate administration process as well as to the Grant of Probate itself.

Probate Registry – this is the court service that the administrator or executor will need to send their application for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration to. The Probate Registry will consider the application and if everything is in order, issue a Grant within a few weeks.


Residuary estate / residue – the part of the estate that is left after all debts and liabilities have been discharged and all specific gifts have been made.

Rules of Intestacy – the rules dictate the distribution of an estate if there is no Will. An estate is distributed to beneficiaries in the order listed in the Rules of Intestacy. Importantly these rules state who is entitled to inherit in a set order of preference, starting with the deceased’s spouse and children.


Testator / testatrix – the person who made the Will.

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