Jargon Buster

The definitions of these terms will vary from place to place so always double check with your local experts.



A personal gift – most often but not exclusively of money – stated in a will. Charitable bequests might reduce estate taxes. Demonstrative bequests have to be paid from a designated place, e.g. named bank account. Conditional bequests are payable on condition of a specific event happening. A general bequest is a bequest that is neither demonstrative, charitable or conditional, e.g. I bequeath £500 to the bowling club.



Anyone who looks after a family member, partner or friend because that person’s physical or mental health means they would be unable to participate in society, live with dignity or survive independently.


An amendment to a will, written and signed in the same way as the original will and referring to the original will.


Common law marriage
This is a commonly believed myth in the UK. The term comes from the US legal system, where most states no longer use it. In Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and also in the Republic of Ireland, if your partner dies you only have automatic legal rights if you were married or if you were in a civil partnership. If you were living together, you can only rely on your partner’s will or, maybe, a good solicitor and a deal of luck.


Some banks, building societies or insurance companies might ask for a document called Confirmation to ensure that you are the official executor of the deceased person’s will. Where there is a full will naming you as executor, your solicitor will apply for confirmation through your local Sheriff Court. (Where there is no will or not one that names executors, see Executor dative) To apply for commission you will have to provide details of the estate called an inventory. If the estate is small and you’d like to avoid solicitors fees, the sheriff clerk can help you with the documentation for obtaining confirmation. At time of writing, there is no fee for examining an inventory of an estate valued at less than £5000 but there will be a charge of between £5 and £16 for the confirmation certificate. There is a charge of up to £206 for examining the inventory of bigger estates.




Death Duties
This is now called Inheritance Tax. Previous names have included Estate Tax and Capital Transfer Tax


The person who has died. Another word for the deceased.


Direct cremation
Where the body is taken from the place of death or mortuary, directly to a crematorium. It is cremated and then handed over to relatives so that they can hold a scattering or memorial ceremony, where and when they want. This frees people from the requirements of a traditional funeral, which usually needs to fit within fixed time and place restraints.




Everything a person owns at the time they die. Insurance policies and pensions paid into by the dead person for a named beneficiary are regarded as the property of the beneficiary.


Estate – large or small?
Add up the total value of the deceased person’s money and property. Do not include life insurance where there is a named beneficiary or money from a pension or lump sum plan with a named beneficiary. These are seen as property of the named beneficiary. Don’t deduct debts such as funeral expenses, fuel bills, or the balance of a mortgage. If the figure you arrive at is £36 000 or less, your loved one has a small estate. If the figure is more than £36 000, the estate is classed as large.


A speech given as part of a funeral ceremony or wake, which might give an account of the dead person’s life or might focus on what the dead person means to the speaker and the relationship they had. Different religious and secular groups have different traditions for these. An elegy is a eulogy in poem or song form.


Executor or Executrix
Person appointed to administer the estate of the person who has died.


Executor dative
If there is no will or the will does not say who should be executor of the will, your solicitor or the sheriff clerk will arrange for an executor dative to be appointed. If you are the surviving spouse or civil partner, it will most likely be you. If you run into any difficulties in ensuring the will is carried out, you will need to have been appointed as executor dative in order to have the authority to resolve or seek legal help in resolving difficulties. To be appointed, your solicitor will send a document to your local Sheriff Court and if there are no objections, you should be appointed within a couple of weeks.




Fatal accident inquiry
A court hearing to establish the circumstances of some sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths, where finding the cause is considered to be in the public interest. They must take place when someone dies in custody or a death is caused by an accident at work. The aim is to prevent future deaths or injuries.


Short for Procurator Fiscal
(see below)


Form 14
This is the Certificate of Registration of Death. You will be given it by the Registrar when you register the death. You must give it to the funeral director.


Form 334/SI
This is the Registration or notification of death. The Registrar will give you this in case you need it for National Insurance purposes or in dealing with the Benefits Agency.


Form SF200
This is an application for payment of the funeral expenses by the Social Fund. You might be eligible for this if your or your spouse received benefits. You can get this form from your local Jobcentre Plus.




Grave deeds
Buying a grave does not mean that you buy the land itself. Instead, you buy grave deeds which give you the right to bury a person or people in that plot of land for a specified period of time.


Grave head
The area of a brave, directly in front of the gravestone. In many cemeteries, you are told the size of this area and asked to keep and memorial material, such as flowers or pebbles, to within the head of the grave.




The deceased person’s land and houses.


Holographic will
A handwritten will that has been signed and dated but not signed by witnesses. Any handwritten document that contains elements of what someone wants to happen in the event of their death might be considered a holographic will. A message containing will-like instructions, written with a finger on the side of a dirty car might be considered as a holographic will.




To collect the money or property of the deceased person.


Inheritance tax
Anything left to a spouse or civil partner is exempt from inheritance tax.


Burial of ashes or of a body in a grave or tomb. Not to be confused with internment, which means being imprisoned or held within a concentration camp.


The term used when someone dies without making a will.




Jobcentre Plus
This is the current shop front of the Department for Work and Pensions. It was formed from a merger between the British Government’s Employment Service, which ran Job Centres, and the Benefits Agency, which ran benefits offices. It brings together departments and offices that have historically been known as the DSS, Social Security, the brew or broo, and the dole.




Grave kerbs, sometimes called kerbsets or grave surrounds, are a stone surround, often filled with gravel, or a slab of stone, with or without ornamentation, which covers the area of the grave. Usually they are mode of the same material as the headstone.




Alternative – often Scottish – word for grave.


A gift of personal property or money, stated in the will to be given to a specific person, e.g. I leave my record collection to my friend Steve. In everyday speech, the term legacy usually means a gift while the term bequest more often refers to money.


If you’ve had a legacy made to you, you are a legatee, e.g., if my husband has written in his will that he wants you to have his kilt, the kilt is a legacy and you are a legatee.




All property belonging to the deceased person that is not heritage, i.e., not land and houses.




Next of kin
Closest relative. The order of who is considered closest tends to go: husband, wife or civil partner, then son or daughter, then father or mother, then brother or sister. For your civil partner, wife or husband, you are their next of kin.




An article written for publishing in a newspaper, which reports the recent death of a person. Usually only the most minimal details are given about the death itself, such as place and date, but not always cause. The main part of the article focuses on giving an account of the person’s life, in the style of a mini biography. Traditionally these are written by close family members or friends, unless the person is particularly famous, in which case journalists might write them as well as friends and family.




The legal right to deal with the estate of someone who has died, however this is a term from the law of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the nearest equivalent is “confirmation” but there are differences between probate law and confirmation law.


Procurator Fiscal
In Scotland, Procurators Fiscal are responsible for investigating any deaths where the circumstances seem suspicious, unexplained, accidental or criminal. They work within the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which is a department of the Scottish Government. In England and Wales, their role is carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service. Their role regarding deaths is equivalent to that of a coroner in the USA.

The Procurator Fiscal will attempt to find the cause of a death and decide whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry are required. Anyone can bring a death to the attention of a Procurator Fiscal but in most cases concerns are reported by members of the police or medical service. Within the Procurator Fiscal’s team is a group of people called Victim Information and Advice staff, who will offer support to all bereaved relatives dealing with Procurators Fiscal.

You can get the contact details of your nearest Procurator Fiscal’s office by calling 0844 561 3000




What is left in the estate after debts have been paid and all legacies and bequests – i.e. specific gifts – have been handed out.




Sheriff Court
The Scottish courts that deal with day-to-day civil legal matters and criminal cases.


The law of succession governs how a person’s property passes on his or her death.




Testator or testatrix
A man or woman who makes a will.




Widow or widower or surviving civil partner
A wife whose husband has died or a husband whose wife has died or a civil partner whose partnership has been ended by the death of the other partner. If your partner died the day after you divorced or if you had a long-term relationship but were never married you might feel every inch a widow or widower, but legally you won’t have the same rights as a widow or widower.


A document stating what someone wants to happen to their belongings after their death, who the executor of the will should be and what should happen at the funeral of the person writing the will. The document should be signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses who should also sign and date the will. For a handwritten note without witnesses, see Holographic will.