Estate Planning has its own vocabulary. To help you speak the language, we've created a glossary of the more commonly used words and phrases. This glossary is comprised of 26 individual pages, one for each letter of the alphabet. To find a particular word or phrase that starts with the letter "W" - simply scroll down the list below. If your word or phrase starts with another letter, please use the alphabet index below.
Under common law, a "will" or "testament" is a document by which a person (the testator) gives instructions regarding the rights of others over his or her property or family after his or her death. In the strictest sense, the term "will" is a general term, while the term "testament" applies only to dispositions of personal property. However, this distinction is seldom observed today. Instead, the terms "will" and "testament" are used almost interchangeably. In fact, the term "Last Will and Testament" is often used interchangeably with the terms "will" and "testament."
Besides disposing of a testator's property, a will usually names a personal representative to administer and settle the testator's estate (called an "executor" or "executrix"). It sometimes also gives funeral and/or burial instructions, nominates guardians of minor children, and spells out other terms that are designed to enable the personal representative to carry out his or her duties of administering the estate without court supervision.
If a will does not name a personal representative, or if the personal representative is unwilling or unable to serve as such, then the probate court will appoint an administrator, c.t.n. to administer the estate.
In order to be valid, a will must be in writing, signed by the person who made it (the "testator" or "testatrix"), dated, and witnessed by two people (some states may require three witnesses). In some states the witnesses must be disinterested. In others, a bequest or devise to a witness is void, but the will remains valid.
A will that is written totally in the handwriting of the testator (i.e., a "holographic will"), which is signed and dated but without witnesses, is valid in some states, but not all.
For a detailed listing of the requirements to make a will in each state, please see State Requirements to Make a Will.
To view the wills of various famous people, click here.
To view our sample wills, click here.
See also, the term "codicil.
A "witness" is a person who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard, or experienced. With respect to a legal document, such as a Last Will and Testament, a witness is a person who observes the signing of the legal document and attests to the signature.