What Is the Meaning of Wording in Wills?

By A.L. Kennedy

Many wills use specialized words and phrases that may have specific legal meanings in court. This special wording is used to ensure that the wishes of the person who made the will are recognized by the probate court, and may also be used to specify that certain people or things are being referred to in part of the will or during probate court proceedings.

People Involved in a Will

Wills and probate courts may use special terms for the people involved in a probate process. The "testator" is the person who made the will. After this person dies, he may also be called the "decedent" or "deceased person." The people who receive some or all of the testator's property under the will are known as the "beneficiaries" or the "devisees." The person responsible for taking care of the testator's final business and giving the things listed in the will to the proper beneficiaries is called the "executor" or the "personal representative." The sum total of the testator's property is known as the "estate."

Probate and Non-Probate

The term "probate" has both a specific and a general meaning. It may be used to mean specifically the legal process by which the court determines that a will is valid. Probate may also be used in a general sense to mean the entire process of carrying out the will's instructions after the testator dies. Anything the testator owns that does not pass under the will is called a "non-probate" asset. Common non-probate assets include joint bank accounts, jointly owned real estate, and the proceeds from life insurance policies.

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Most people's last will and testament includes a phrase stating that this will revokes all previous wills. The purpose of the revocation wording in a last will and testament is to ensure that the last will controls and is not confused with any prior wills, according to FindLaw. A will may also include one or more codicils, or amendments. Usually, a codicil will say that it revokes a specific part of the will, which is then replaced by the codicil. Always include the day, month and year on any new will or codicil along with a revocation statement to ensure the probate court is clear on which will came last in time.

Residuary Clause

Many wills include, at or near the end of the will, a phrase that leaves whatever is left over in the estate to a particular person, trust or charity. This phrase may use words like "rest, residue and remainder" to refer to all the parts of the estate not specifically mentioned in the rest of the will. This phrase is known as a residuary clause. Its purpose is to ensure that the will passes the entire estate on to whomever the testator chooses. Without a residuary clause, any part of the estate the will does not cover is given to someone designated under state law, who may not be the person the testator would choose.

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