Jargon buster: wills and end-of-life planning

4 min read


Read our jargon buster guide to find out about some of the most common terms you may come across when writing a will or making end-of-life plans.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to end-of-life preparations or making your will – and it’s not something that many of us like to talk about. But thinking about your final wishes in advance will make handling your estate easier, and therefore less painful, for your family and loved ones after you’re gone and give you peace of mind that everything is taken care of.

While getting plans in place can seem overwhelming, making sure you’re clued up on the jargon can help to make things a bit easier. Plus, if your situation is more complicated or you think you need extra support, there’s plenty of guidance available online as well the option of hiring a legal or financial professional to help.

Common terms

Find out about some of the most common terms you may come across when it comes to wills and end-of-life planning. For more help and guidance, visit the Money Advice Service website.

The term What it means
Beneficiary Someone who benefits from a will.
Estate All assets belonging to the person who has died, including money, property, and possessions.
Executor The person (or people) who sorts out your estate after you die, and whose duty it is to carry out the instructions written in your will. Anyone aged 18 or above can be an executor. 
Guardian The person (or people) appointed in your will that are responsible for looking after your children if you die.  
Inheritance tax A tax on the estate of someone who’s died. There’s normally no tax to pay if the value of your estate is below the inheritance tax threshold, or you leave everything above the threshold to your spouse, civil partner or to charity. The standard threshold is £325,000, but this can rise to as much as £1million depending on your circumstances.
Intestate A term applied to someone who dies without making a valid will. In this case, the estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy.
Letter of wishes A document that normally accompanies a will. While it’s not legally binding, it provides advice on how the person who’s died would like their estate to be dealt with.
Life-sustaining treatment Any treatment that aims to prolong a person’s life without reversing their medical condition, including cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), artificial feeding and hydration, ventilation or intravenous (IV) medicine.
Living will (advance decision/directive) A written legal document stating what medical care you’d like to receive if you’re unable to express your wishes or communicate with doctors because of a terminal illness or being unconscious for an extended period.
Palliative care A form of care for people who are terminally ill that’s intended to make the final years, weeks, or months of life as comfortable and dignified as possible, with a focus on pain management and psychological or spiritual support.
Power of attorney A legal document granting a trusted friend or family member the power to make decisions on your behalf, should you become incapacitated.
Probate The financial and legal process of sorting out someone’s estate after they die, normally settling any debts and distributing assets in accordance with the will.
Public Trustee The Public Trustee can be appointed as the executor of your estate to deal with your property and money after you die if you can’t find anyone suitable or willing.
Testator The person who has made the will.
Trust A legal arrangement where you give assets, such as cash, property or investments, to someone (a trustee) so they can look after them on behalf of a beneficiary – for example, because they are too young to manage it themselves.
Trustee The person (or people) appointed to manage a trust.

Information and support

Breaking the silence around death

Our new book How to Die Well is a practical guide to death, dying and loss, featuring inclusive cultural conversations and all-important support and resources for anyone dealing with death. 

Find out how to get your copy about Breaking the silence around death

Guides and resources

Professional advice

If you need help with your will or end-of-life planning, it may be worth seeking the support of a professional financial adviser or solicitor, depending on your needs. Your can learn more about where to look for an adviser on our website, or visit The Law Society to find a trusted legal professional in your area.