Wills, Estates & Trusts

Estate Matters – A Glossary of Terms (A to L)

November 8, 2022

Pen and Notebook representing Commonly Used Estate Law Terminology in Alberta

Estate matters can be technically and legally complex, particularly as they involve a substantial amount of legalese and otherwise unfamiliar terminology. We have compiled a glossary of terms to help those involved in the emotional business of probating a loved one’s estate or embroiled in an estate-related dispute.



A person appointed by the court under a Grant of Administration to manage the estate of a person who died without a Will or with a Will that did not name an executor. This also applies when a named executor is unable or unwilling to act. In Alberta, the term “administrator” has mainly been replaced with “personal representative”.

Adult Guardian

A person appointed by the court to make personal decisions for an adult who has lost decision-making capacity (usually through mental incapacity, disability, or illness). A person can act solely as an adult guardian or as both an adult guardian and adult trustee.

Adult Trustee

A person appointed by the court to make financial decisions for an adult who lacks decision-making capacity. A person can act solely as an adult trustee or as both an adult guardian and trustee.


The act of witnessing a document and signing it as a witness.



A person entitled to receive property or money from an estate (usually because they are named in a Will or trust).


A gift of personal property left in a Will.


Caveat Emptor

A Latin term meaning “let the buyer beware”. While often applied to the purchase of goods or property, it is also used in estate litigation to refer to a beneficiary’s responsibility to ensure they receive all they are entitled to from an estate.


A supplement to an existing Will changing some, but not all, of its provisions. To be valid, a codicil must meet the same legal requirements as a Will: it must be signed and witnessed by two people. As codicils can be easily lost or ambiguous, they are not always the best method for updating a Will.



A person’s property and assets, including money, real estate, personal belongings, and investments, that are left behind when they die.


A person named in a Will who is responsible for carrying out the instructions of the person who made the Will (the “testator”). Sometimes referred to as a “personal representative”, an executor’s duties include collecting the estate’s assets, paying the deceased’s debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the Will.


Family Maintenance & Support Claim

A claim made by a deceased’s dependent for financial support from the estate. Dependents who do not feel adequately cared for through the provisions of a Will can seek relief under Alberta’s Wills and Succession Act.


Grant (or Letter) of Administration

A document issued by the court to appoint the administrator for an estate. This grant applies in cases where a person dies without a Will or fails to name an executor in their Will, or the named executor is unwilling or unable to act as executor.

Grant of Probate

A document issued by the court to confirm the appointment of an executor as named in a Will.


May refer to a person’s ability to make care decisions for a minor child or for an adult incapable of making their own decisions (see “adult guardian” and “adult trustee”).


Holographic Will

A type of Will that is entirely handwritten by the testator (the person making the Will). To be valid in Alberta, a holographic Will must be in the testator’s own handwriting and be signed by the testator without any witnesses. It must also be a document that demonstrates a “testamentary disposition”.


Inter Vivos Trust

A trust that is created during the lifetime of a settlor (the person making the trust). The trustee holds the trust property for the benefit of the trust’s designated beneficiaries. Inter vivos trusts are commonly used in estate planning to provide for a specific need, such as a child’s education or the care of a disabled person. They also help minimize tax consequences and avoid probate fees.


An estate’s state when the testator dies without a valid Will (dies “intestate”). Each province has its own intestacy laws that govern how an estate’s assets will be distributed in the absence of a Will. If a Will is in place, but one portion is declared legally invalid, the part of the estate governed by that invalid portion will fall into intestacy.



A legacy is a gift of property that is given in a Will. Legacies can be given to individuals or organizations.

Contact DBB Law in Calgary for Top-Tier Estate Law Solutions

The estate lawyers at Dunphy Best Blocksom LLP are recognized as industry leaders in Wills, trusts, and estate law. We provide a multi-disciplinary approach to estate matters through collaboration with our firm’s tax and family lawyers and outside professionals such as accountants, financial advisors, and insurance brokers. Our clients can rest assured that they receive the most comprehensive advice no matter the nature of the case, whether in terms of estate planning, administration and probate, family and estate tax, family trusts, elder law, or adult guardianship.

DBB Law is based in Calgary and proudly serves clients throughout the great province of Alberta. We practice in a broad range of areas, including business and commercial law, civil litigation, construction law, family law, labour and employment law, real estate, tax law, and estate law. To schedule a consultation, please call us at 403-265-7777 or reach out online.

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