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Wills Dictionary

Similar to many legal documents, wills often contain confusing technical terms that may be difficult to understand. Luckily, a quick look at some of these terms and their definitions will improve your overall understanding of wills and make you more confident in the will-making process. 

Testator: The testator is the individual making the will. The term testatrix is sometimes used to refer to a female testator.

Beneficiary: A beneficiary describes someone who is receiving something. In the case of a will, it’s anyone who is receiving a gift from the testator. There can be many beneficiaries ranging from people to organizations. 

Common Beneficiaries Include:

  • Spouse
  • Children or Grandchildren
  • Other Surviving Relatives
  • Non-Profit Organizations
  • Friends
  • Charities

Unfortunately, because your pet is considered your property, and thus, part of your estate, they cannot be a beneficiary. That being said, you should definitely leave instructions for their care and money for pet-related expenses in your will.

Devisee: A devisee refers to a beneficiary who is receiving real estate as a gift from the testator.

Bequest: This is the term used to describe a gift of personal property left for a beneficiary. For example, one might say “I bequeath my 2017 Honda Civic to my grandchild”. 

Residuary Estate: After all your bequests and expenses are dealt with, whatever is left over (which you did not specifically leave to someone) forms your residuary estate

Executor: Often referred to as an estate trustee or personal representative, an executor is the person who will be executing the will. Sometimes, a female executor is referred to as an executrix. They are named by the testator and will carry out the terms of the will while administering the testator’s estate; and yes, your executor can also be a beneficiary in your will! 

In Canada, there are two main types of Wills:

Attested/Formal Wills: An “attested” will refers to a will that is signed by the testator (yourself) in front of two witnesses who also sign the bottom of the will. Additionally, witnesses often sign an affidavit stating they’ve witnessed you sign and have no reason to believe you were incapable of making the will. 

Holographic Wills: Less formal than an attested will, a holographic will is one that is handwritten, signed, and dated by the testator and does not require any witnesses. While these wills are the simplest, they can often be challenged and deemed invalid if they are unclear or do not address important legal details. As such, legal experts typically advise against them and suggest attested wills are the superior choice. 

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