A Short Glossary of Legal Terms Used in Wills

Legal terms found in wills and court records can be confusing. The following table give a short list of such terms and their definitions. A correct understanding of the language used can make wills and court records all the more valuable.

Term Definition
Administrator One appointed by a court to settle an estate.
Assignation Replacement of an executor or administrator by another person.
Bequeath To give or hand down in a testament.
Bequest A gift handed down in a testament.
Chattels Movable personal property, livestock, slaves.
Curation Guardianship of a child between 12 (girls) or 14 (boys) and 21.
Curator A guardian of a child between 12 or 14 and 21.
Devise Give real estate in a will.
Dower Rights The right of the widow to a specified portion of the testator's estate during her lifetime or until her re-marriage.
Executor One appointed to carry out the provisions of a will.
Executrix A female executor, often the wife.
Goods Movable inanimate personal property.
Holograph Will hand-written by the testator.
Intestate Having died without a will.
Inventory An accounting of the real property and personalty left by the testator.
Letters of Administration
A court order providing for the execution of a will in the absence of an executor, or of a valid will.
Non-cupative A will made orally, not in writing.
Personalty The goods and chattels a person can bequeath in a testament.
Probate Approval of the will by the court.
Probate Court A court that has the power to grant probate.
Real Estate Land or buildings a person can devise in a will.
Relict A widow or widower surviving the spouse.
Testator The person who makes a will and testament.
Testament A legal document giving personalty (goods and chattels).
Testamentary Bond A bond posted by the executor or administrator guaranteeing faithful execution.
Tutor Someone appointed to be a guardian for a very young child (under 12 or 14).
Will A legal document giving real estate.
Witness Someone who saw the will and testament signed, and swears to that in probate court.


Chapman, Colin R. Sin, Sex and Probate: Ecclesiastical Courts, Officials & Records. Dursley, England: Lochin Publishing, 1997.

Harris, Maurine and Glen. Concise Genealogical Dictionary. Ancestry, 1989.

Morris, William, Ed. The Americal Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. and Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971.

This file was last updated on 7/14/2004.

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