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Making sense of wills

will-estate-legal

Acting as an executor can be rewarding work, but if you don’t have a solid legal background, it can also be confusing. Even if you’ve hired expert help to handle your executor duties, it’s important to understand the estate documents.

Here are some of the most common legalese terms you’ll come across in a will:

Issue: All persons in the line of descent (e.g., a person’s children, grandchildren, etc.).

Per stirpes: A term used to describe a method used in dividing an estate where a group inherits the proportional share that a deceased ancestor would have gotten if living.


For example, let’s say the deceased had three children, two of whom are living at the time of his death. The pre-deceased child had two children living at the time of her death. The share would be divided into three equal parts. Each child would receive one third, and the two grandchildren (children of the deceased child) would each receive one-sixth of the share.

Per capita: A term used to describe a method used in dividing an estate where an equal share is given to a number of people.

Devise: The disposition of real or personal property through a will.

Hotchpot: The blending of property belonging to different people in order to divide it equally among beneficiaries. It generally involves taking into consideration funds already given to children when dividing up the property of the deceased parent to ensure each child receives an equal share.

En ventre sa mere: Refers to an child conceived but not yet born. For the purpose of inheritance, a child is treated as having been born if they are “en ventre sa mere” at the time of the testator’s death and are subsequently born alive.

There may be other more obscure words in the will you’re dealing with, but knowing these few terms should equip you to make sense of most parts of most wills.

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