Although estate planning can be easy and intuitive, the legal jargon surrounding Wills can make it confusing for those who aren’t familiar with the process. Although many aspects of estate planning are actually relatively simple, the unfamiliar language that people associate with the law can make these aspects seem daunting, even unintelligible. The awkward words used in Wills may be intimidating, but you shouldn’t let a few unusual terms turn you away from preparing your own Will.
One of the philosophies that governs ExpatLegalWills.com is the idea that the law should be accessible, and that jargon terms shouldn’t prevent anyone from understanding their Wills. You shouldn’t be required to spend significant sums of money on legal advice just to understand your own Will. This glossary presents some of the most common terms that surround estate planning law, terms that will be useful as you write your Last Will and Testament. If there are others you would like to see, please add them in the comments.
The Testator, Beneficiary, Executor, and Witness: The major roles involved in writing a legal Will.
There are several key terms that describe people in relation to your legal Will. During the estate planning process, keep these terms in mind.
- Testator: The person creating or leaving a Last Will and Testament.
- Beneficiary: A person who receives a gift as per the Last Will and Testament. This can be a person, a charity, or any other organisation.
- Executor: A person selected by the testator who carries out the Last Will and Testament. Executors will distribute assets, deal with creditors, make tax payments, and perform other services on behalf of the estate. The executor can also be a beneficiary.
- Executors are usually compensated for their services. In most jurisdictions, 5% of the aggregate value of the estate is generally the maximum payment, and executors are commonly awarded 2.5-3.5%.
- The Executor can be a friend or family member, or you can employ the services of a professional; usually a lawyer or department within a bank. Lawyers and solicitors have been known however to charge not only a percentage of the estate, but also an hourly fee which has led to some criticism.
- Witness: A competent person who has reached age of majority that is present with the testator for the signing and dating of the legal Will. Witnesses have to to be disinterested parties; in other words, they can not be a beneficiary, and witnessing a Will can cause a beneficiary to forfeit their gift (disinheritance), or even challenge the validity of the entire Will. In some jurisdictions the spouse of a beneficiary is also disqualified from being a witness. So at ExpatLegalWills.com we generally recommend that the person has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the Will, just to be on the safe side.
Most people know that they need a Will, but with 65% of adults in Canada, the UK and the US without a Will, there is clearly a barrier to getting it done. In most cases there is a misconception that in order to prepare a Will, you must have an estate planning lawyer or solicitor involved.
For Expats this presents a unique challenge, especially if assets are held in more that one country. You need a Will for each country in which you are holding assets, and you would need to find a qualified legal professional in each country to deal with your estate planning needs.
You may have heard about using do-it-yourself Will kits, or online Will services, but again, with assets held in different countries, you are rightly skeptical that an off the shelf Will kit would be able to cope with the complexities of your estate.
But travelling to each country to meet with a lawyer or solicitor to draw up the legal documents is simply not practical, especially if there are other family members involved. This makes the estate planning bill escalate into the thousands of pounds or dollars. Continue reading