What Is the Terminology of the Last Will & Testament?

by Marie Murdock
You may not recognize some of the terms used in your will.

You may not recognize some of the terms used in your will.

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You may have had a will prepared by your attorney and walked out of his office feeling confused by the language in the will. “Testator," "testatrix," "executor," "executrix," "devisee” -- you may question whether the attorney is speaking a foreign language. Latin has influenced much of the legal terminology in use today, so you may need some help in deciphering these terms.

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Testator or Testatrix

The testator is a male individual who is making a will, while the testatrix is the female version of the same. If you have just had a will prepared, then you have become a testator or a testatrix.

Executor or Executrix

The executor -- male -- or executrix -- female -- is the person you have named in your will to fulfill its terms after your death. Many states have adopted the use of the term “personal representative” to refer to this individual, as it had become burdensome to continually refer to the male and female versions as well as their plural counterparts -- “executors" and "executrices.” The term “personal representative” is used widely in probate courts today, although many people still frequently refer to this person as the “executor” of a will.


The devisee or devisees are the person or persons you have named in your will to inherit your property. This term generally differs from its intestate counterpart, “heirs,” in that you may name someone in your will to inherit your property that is not a direct descendant or relative. For instance, you may name a lifelong friend as a devisee under the will, but she would not be considered as an heir who would ordinarily have inherited from you.

Per Stirpes

The terms “per stirpes” and “per capita” may determine how your property is distributed after your death. Per stirpes means that if one of your devisees dies before you, his share of your property would pass to his lineal descendants. For example, if you devise property to your four children and one of them dies before you, his children, or your grandchildren, would inherit his share. If you stated that the property passes “per capita,” followed by “to my remaining devisees,” then the share of the deceased child would be split equally between the remaining devisees to the exclusion of your grandchildren. If you stated that it passes “per capita to my remaining descendants,” then your deceased child’s children would share equally with the remaining devisees under the will so that each grandchild gets the same percentage of your estate as each surviving child.