Administrative Procedure Act
A federal statute establishing the rules and regulations for applications, claims, hearings, and appeals involving governmental agencies. There are similar acts in many states which spell out the rules for dealing with state government agencies. (See also: administrative law)

A person appointed by a probate court to handle the distribution of the property of someone who has died without a will, or with a will that fails to name someone to carry out this task. (See also: administrator ad litem, administrator ad prosequendum, administrator cum testamento annexo, administrator de bonis non, administrator de bonis non cum testamento annexo, administrator pendente lite, administrator with will annexed, special administrator)

Administrator Ad Litem
A person appointed by a probate court to represent an estate during a lawsuit. (Ad litem is Latin for "during the litigation.") An administrator ad litem is appointed only if there is no existing executor or administrator of the estate, or if the executor or administrator has conflicting interests. For example, Jerry's will leaves most of his property to his brother, Jeff, and also names Jeff as executor of the will. But Jerry's sister, Janine, feels that Jerry made the will under improper pressure from Jeff and brings a lawsuit to challenge it. The court appoints an administrator ad litem to represent Jerry's estate while the lawsuit is in progress. Also known as administrator ad prosequendum, meaning administrator "during the prosecution."

Administrator Ad Prosequendum
See: administrator ad litem

Administrator Cum Testamento Annexo
See: administrator with will annexed

Administrator De Bonis Non
Latin for "administrator of goods not administered." The person appointed by a probate court to finish probate proceedings when the executor or previous administrator can't finish the job.

Administrator De Bonis Non Cum Testamento Annexo
An administrator appointed by a probate court to take over probate proceedings when the named executor dies, leaving the job unfinished.

Administrator Pendente Lite
Latin for "administrator pending litigation." The person appointed by a court to begin probate proceedings during a lawsuit that challenges the will. The administrator pendente lite takes an inventory of the deceased person's property and handles the business affairs of the estate until the dispute is settled. Also called a special administrator.

Administrator With Will Annexed
An administrator who takes the place of an executor under a will. The administrator steps in either when a will fails to nominate an executor or the named executor is unable to serve. Also called administrator cum testamento annexo or CTA.

An outdated term for a female administrator -- the person appointed by a court to handle probate on behalf of someone who died without a will. Now, whether male or female, this person is called the administrator or, in some states, personal representative.

Admiralty Court
See: maritime court

Admiralty Law
See: maritime law

Admissible Evidence
The evidence that a trial judge may allow in at a trial for the judge or jury to consider in reaching a decision. Evidence is admitted or deemed inadmissible based on the applicable rules of evidence in the place where the case is being heard. The basic rules of evidence are the same in almost all jurisdictions. There are also both federal and military rules.

1) One side's statement that certain facts are true, or failure to respond to certain allegations, in response to a request from the other side during pretrial discovery. 2) An out-of-court statement by an adverse party that is against the interest of the party who said it, offered into evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule. Compare: declaration against interest

Admission Against Interest
An admission against interest is an exception to the hearsay rule which allows someone to testify to a statement by another person that reveals something incriminating, embarassing, or otherwise damaging to the maker of the statement.

Admission Of Guilt
Admission by someone that he or she has committed acts that amount to a criminal offense.

To state something is true. 1) In civil cases, the defendants will admit or deny each allegation in their answers filed with the court. When the defendant admits an allegation, that claim need not be proved in trial. 2) In criminal law, to agree that a fact is true or to confess guilt. 3) To allow something to come in as evidence in a trial, as when the judge rules, "Exhiibit D, plaintiff's letter, is admitted into evidence."

1) To approve or accept something -- for example, a legislative body may adopt a law or an amendment, a government agency may adopt a regulation, or a party to a lawsuit may adopt a particular argument. 2) To assume the legal relationship of parent to another person's child. (See also: adoption)

Adopted Child
Any person, whether an adult or a minor, who is legally adopted as the child of another in a court proceeding. (See also: adoption)

A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not the adult's biological child. An adoption decree creates a parent-child relationship recognized for all legal purposes -- including child support obligations, inheritance rights, and custody. An adult can also adopt another adult under certain circumstances.

Adoptive Parent
A person who completes all the requirements to legally adopt a child who is not his or her biological child. Generally, any single or married adult whom the court determines to be a "fit parent" may adopt a child. Some states have special requirements, such as requiring the adoptive parent to be at least a specified number of years older than the child, and requiring the parent to have resided in the county for a minimum amount of time. An adoptive parent has all the responsibilities of a biological parent.

See: alternative dispute resolution

In most situations, any person 18 years of age or older.

Consensual sexual relations by a married person with someone other than the person's spouse. In states that still allow fault grounds for divorce, adultery is always sufficient grounds for a divorce. In addition, some states factor in adultery when dividing property between divorcing spouses.

A type of loan or payment in which money is paid ahead of time, in anticipation of repayment or other future adjustment. For example, paying for goods before they are shipped.

Advance Directive
A legal document that allows you to set out written wishes for your medical care and to name a person to make sure those wishes are carried out. (See also: living will, durable power of attorney for health care)

Advance Parole
In the immigration context, advance parole may be granted to a person who is already in the United States but needs to leave temporarily, without a visa. With advance parole, the applicant's pending immigration application will not be canceled while he or she is away. This helps preserve the person's right to return to the U.S. -- though it does not guarantee entry.

Advance Sheets
A looseleaf booklet comprising recent court decisions. (See: reports)

A gift made by a living person -- usually from a parent to a child -- with the intent that the amount will proportionately reduce the recipient's share of the gift-giver's estate. Gifts made shortly before death are more typically treated as advancements than those made years earlier.

Contrary or opposed to one's own interests. For example, an adverse party would be the one suing you.

Adverse Interest
A right or concern that's contrary to the interest or claim of another. An adverse interest in real property is a claim against the property, such as an easement.

Adverse Party
The opposite side in a lawsuit. Sometimes when there are numerous parties in one lawsuit, they may be adverse to each other on some issues and in agreement on other matters.

Adverse Possession
A means by which one can legally take another's property without paying for it. The requirements for adversely possessing property vary between states, but usually include continuous and open use for a period of five or more years and paying taxes on the property in question.

Adverse Witness
See: hostile witness

Advisory Opinion
An opinion by a court, administrative agency, or attorney general that does not resolve a dispute between parties but instead states the legal rule on a particular matter.

Someone who signs an affidavit and swears to its truth before a notary public or another person authorized to take oaths, such as a county clerk. Compare: declarant

Any written document in which the signer swears under oath before a notary public or someone authorized to take oaths (like a county clerk) that the statements in the document are true. In many states, a declaration under penalty of perjury, which does not require taking an oath, is the equivalent of an affidavit.

An act by one court to agree with and confirm a lower court's decision.

Affirmative Action
Policies of governments and other institutions, private and public, intended to promote employment, contracting, educational, and other opportunities for members of historically disadvantaged groups. Because they may favor some groups over others, affirmative action policies must be narrowly tailored to meet the institution's legitimate goals, such as remedying the effects of past discrimination or promoting full diversity in a school setting.

Affirmative Defense
When a defendant in a civil lawsuit files a response, usually called an "answer," the answer will state the defendant's denials of the claims made. In addition, the defendant may state affirmative defenses that excuse or justify the behavior on which the lawsuit is based. For example, an affirmative defense of "unclean hands" argues that the person bringing the lawsuit has acted badly in a way that should preclude any finding against the defendant.

1) To attach something to real estate in a permanent way, including planting trees, constructing a building, or installng a built-in bookshelf. 2) To add a signature or or seal to a document.

To set free from slavery or an obligation. (See also: enfranchise)

After-Acquired Evidence
In employment law, facts the employer learns after firing an employee for which the employer would have fired the employee anyway. After-acquired evidence may be used as a defense to a wrongful termination lawsuit or to limit the damages available to an employee who was wrongfully fired. For example, an employer may discover, after illegally firing an employee because of his age, that the employee stole from the employer. The employer may use this evidence to limit its damages for lost wages in an age discrimination lawsuit to what the employee would have earned between the time he was fired and the time the employer would have discovered his theft and fired him absent any age discrimination.

After-Acquired Property
1) Property that a person acquires after taking on a debt, which becomes additional collateral for the debt. Typically, this occurs when the debtor has signed an agreement pledging all property as security for the debt. 2) Property acquired by a debtor after filing for bankruptcy. 3) Property someone acquires after making a will.

After-Acquired Title
Title to property acquired by someone after that person has purportedly transferred the property to someone else. As soon as the seller actually acquires title, it passes to the person to whom it was sold. For example, John signs, acknowledges, and records a deed of his late father's ranch to Sam, even though John has not yet received title from his father's estate. When John gets the title from his father's estate and records it, the after-acquired title goes automatically to Sam.

After-Discovered Evidence
Evidence found by a losing party in a civil or criminal case after a motion has been ruled upon or trial has been completed. To convince the judge to reopen the matter, the losing party must prove that the evidence absolutely could not have been discovered earlier. Also called newly discovered evidence. (See: writ of coram nobis)

Age Discrimination
Treating an employee or applicant for employment less favorably because of his or her age, if the employee or applicant is at least 40 years old.

Age Discrimination In Employment Act (Adea)
A federal law that prohibits discrimination based on age against employees or applicants who are at least 40 years old. (See also: Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA))

Age Of Consent
See: legal age, age of majority

Age Of Majority
Adulthood in the eyes of the law. After reaching the age of majority, a person is permitted to vote, make a valid will, enter into binding contracts, enlist in the armed forces, and purchase alcohol. Also, parents may stop making child support payments when a child reaches the age of majority. In most states the age of majority is 18, but this varies depending on the activity. For example, in some states people are allowed to vote when they reach the age of 18, but can't purchase alcohol until they're 21.

The relationship of a person (called the agent) who acts on behalf of another person, company, or government, known as the principal. The principal is responsible for the acts of the agent, and the agent's acts bind the principal.

A person authorized to act for and under the direction of another person when dealing with third parties. The person who appoints an agent is called the principal. An agent can enter into binding agreements on the principal's behalf and may even create liability for the principal if the agent causes harm while carrying out his or her duties. Also called an attorney-in-fact.

Agent For Acceptance Of Service
See: agent for service of process

Agent For Service Of Process
The individual designated to receive legal documents and tax notices for a corporation or an LLC. The agent is responsible for ensuring that the business's owners receive important correspondence and legal notices in a timely manner. State law requires that the agent be designated in the corporation's articles of incorporation or the LLC's articles of organization.

To make more serious or severe.

Aggravated Assault
The crime of physically attacking another person and causing serious bodily harm; or assault with a deadly or dangerous weapon such as a gun, knife, ax, or blunt instrument. Aggravated assault is usually a felony, punishable by a term in state prison. (See also: assault)

Aggravated Battery
A crime in which someone has not only used force against the victim, but did so using extreme force (such as a deadly weapon). Aggravated battery may also be charged on the basis of the seriousness of the victim's injuries. (See: battery)

Aggravating Circumstances
Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, which will increase the wrongdoer's penalty or punishment. For example, the crime of aggravated assault is a physical attack made worse because it is committed with a dangerous weapon, results in severe bodily injury, or is made in conjunction with another serious crime. Aggravated assault is usually considered a felony, punishable by a prison sentence.

See: adjusted gross income

Agreed Statement Of Facts
A statement of facts, agreed to by the parties to a lawsuit (at trial or on appeal) and submitted to the court in writing.

A meeting of the minds. An agreement is made when two people reach an understanding about a particular issue, including their obligations, duties, and rights. While agreement is sometimes used to mean a contract -- a legally binding oral or written agreement -- it is actually a broader term, including understandings that might not rise to the level of a legally binding contract.

Aid And Abet
To help someone else commit a crime. An aider and abettor is a helper who is present at a crime scene but in a passive role, such as acting as a lookout. In most situations, an aider and abettor faces the same punishment as the perpetrator of the crime.

Depending on an uncertain event. Usually applied to insurance contracts in which payment is dependent on the occurrence of an uncertain event, such as injury to an insured person or fire damage to an insured building.

A name used that is not the given name of a person (such as Harry for Harold, initials, or a maiden name, or a criminal's false name).

A defense that asserts that the defendant could not have committed the crime because the defendant was somewhere else when the crime took place.

Alibi Witness
A witness who confirms a defendant's alibi.

A foreign-born person in the United States who has not become a U.S. citizen and is still a citizen of another country. Can refer to legal immigrants as well as undocumented (or, in common parlance, "illegal") aliens.

Alien Registration Card (Arc)
The official name used in immigration law for a green card, indicating that the holder has U.S. permanent residence.

In real estate law, the complete and voluntary transfer of title to real estate from one person to another. The freedom to alienate property is considered essential to complete ownership.

Alienation Of Affections
Deliberate diversion of a person's affection away from someone--usually a spouse--who has a right to expect such affection. In most places, alienation of affection is no longer recognized as a legal claim.

The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of long duration (ten years or more) or in the case of an ailing spouse, alimony usually lasts for a set period, with the expectation that the recipient spouse will become self-supporting. Alimony is also called "spousal support" or "maintenance."

(al-ee-kwoh) A Latin term for a definite fractional share, usually applied when dividing and distributing the assets in a deceased person's estate or trust.

See: administrative law judge

A statement by a party in a pleading describing what that party's position is and what that party intends to prove. Certain allegations are required for a plaintiff to maintain a lawsuit. (See also: pleading)

To claim a fact is true. A complaint, which plaintiffs file to commence a lawsuit, will allege certain facts. Civil defendants may allege their own facts in their answers.

Allen Charge
See: dynamite charge

The depositing of gravel or sediment by a river. (See also: accretion, alluvion)

An increase in one's land from soil deposited on the shoreline by natural action of a stream, river, bay, or ocean. Compare: accretion

Alter Ego
A corporation, limited liability company, or other entity set up to provide a legal shield for the person controlling the operation. Proving that such an organization is a mere cover, or alter ego, for the business owner is one way to "pierce the veil" of the corporation or limited liability company, or take away the owners' limited liability protection.

Alternate Beneficiary
A person, organization, or institution that receives property through a will, trust, or insurance policy when the first named beneficiary is unable or refuses to take the property. For example, in his will Jake leaves his collection of sheet music to his daughter, Mia, and names the local symphony as alternate beneficiary. If Mia dies before Jake or if Mia decides to disclaim the gift, the manuscripts will pass directly to the symphony. In insurance law, the alternate beneficiary, usually the person who receives the insurance proceeds because the initial or primary beneficiary has died, is sometimes called the secondary or contingent beneficiary.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (Adr)
A catchall term that describes a variety of methods that parties can use to resolve disputes outside of court, including negotiation, conciliation, mediation, collaborative practice, and the many types of arbitration. The common denominator of all ADR methods is that they are faster, less formalistic, less expensive, and often less adversarial than a court trial.

Alternative Minimum Tax (Amt)
An IRS system created to ensure that high-income individuals, corporations, trusts, and estates pay a minimum amount of tax, regardless of deductions, credits, or exemptions. To arrive at AMT, certain items (such as passive losses from tax shelters) are added back to adjusted gross income. If the alternative minimum tax is higher than the regular tax liability for the year, then you must make up the difference by paying the alternative minimum tax.

Alternative Pleading
A legal fiction in which a pleader alleges two or more legal claims which are inconsistent with each other. For example, someone hurt in an accident can plead that the other party was negligent or ran into him intentionally. Or in a criminal trial, a defendant may plead not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity (in which there is the implied admission that the defendant committed the act). (See also: pleading)

Alternative Reproductive Technology (Art)
A general term for a collection of methods for conceiving children through medical technology, including in vitro fertilization, ovum donation, donor insemination, and other techniques. Conception by ART can lead to legal conflict over who the parents of the resulting child are.

Alternative Writ Of Mandate (Mandamus)
A court order that requires a governmental agency, court, or officials to obey to take a certain action, or show cause at a hearing why it should not have to obey. Compare: peremptory writ of mandate (or mandamus)

Amber Alert
A voluntary nationwide collaborative effort -- including law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry -- to send out an urgent bulletin when a child has been abducted. AMBER stands for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." The alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old Texas girl who was abducted and murdered.

When language in an agreement has more than one meaning. Patent ambiguity occurs when the language of the document itself is ambiguous. Latent ambiguity is not readily apparent, but arises in connection with external circumstances. When a contract is ambiguous, external evidence may be introduced to help determine the original intent of parties.

To alter or change by adding, subtracting, or substituting. One can amend a statute, a contract, or a written pleading filed in a law suit. The change is usually called an amendment.

Amended Complaint
A second (or third, or fourth, etc.) version of a complaint submitted by the plaintiff or petitioner. A party may amend a complaint to correct facts, add new claims, substitute discovered names for persons sued as "Doe" defendants, or revise a cause of action after the court has found the complaint inadequate.

Amended Pleading
A written pleading in a lawsuit that is changed and refiled as an amended pleading by the party who initially filed it. Pleadings are amended for various reasons, including correcting facts, adding claims, adding affirmative defenses, or responding to a court's finding that a pleading is  inadequate as a matter of law.

Amended Tax Return
A tax return filed by an individual or entity to correct an error made on a previously filed return or to get a refund of taxes paid.

American Bar Association (Aba)
A voluntary professional association of U.S. lawyers founded in 1878. The ABA's activities and mission include providing law school accreditation, continuing legal education classes, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.

American Civil Liberties Union
A national membership organization that takes legal action to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties of people as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

American Clean Energy And Security Act Of 2009
Also called the Waxman-Markey Bill, this legislation sought to address climate change while building a clean energy economy. Among other things, this bill established a national cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases and promoted renewable sources of energy.

American Recovery And Reinvestment Act Of 2009
Also known as the Stimulus Package or Recovery Act, a federal law intended to jumpstart the struggling economy by creating new jobs and saving existing ones, spurring investment, and fostering accountability and transparency in government spending. The package contained extensive funding for science, engineering research, and infrastructure, and smaller amounts for education, social sciences, and the arts. The Act has its own website, www.recovery.gov.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
A federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities in employment, public services, transportation, and places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels, and theaters. The law also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow employees with disabilities to do their jobs.

See: amicus curiae

Amicus Curiae
Latin for "friend of the court," a person or organization that is not a party to a lawsuit but that has a strong interest in the case and wants to participate, usually by filing a brief in support of one party's position. Amicus curiae must be invited by the court or obtain permission from the court before participating.

A pardon extended to a group or class of individuals by the government, usually before any trial or conviction. Amnesties often follow wars -- for example, the amnesty granted to Confederate officials and soldiers after the Civil War or to those who violated the Selective Service Act by evading the draft during the Vietnam War.

(1) A periodic payment plan to pay a debt (such as a mortgage or car loan) by a certain date, in which interest and a portion of the principal is included in each payment. Payments are usually calculated in equal monthly installments. Since the largest portion of the early payments is interest (based on the amount owed), the principal doesn't decline significantly until the latter stages of the loan term. (2) A tax method of recovering costs of certain assets by taking deductions evenly over time. This is similar to straight-line depreciation and unlike an accelerated depreciation method. For example, when someone buys a company, the Internal Revenue Code directs that business goodwill costs must be amortized over 15 years by the buyer.

See: alternative minimum tax

Ancillary Administration
A probate court proceeding conducted in a different state from the one the deceased person resided in at the time of death. Usually, ancillary probate is necessary if the deceased person owned real estate in another state. For example, if Tatiana dies in Montana, where she had been living, and leaves a parcel in Columbus, Ohio, then there must be ancillary administration in Ohio probate court to transfer the property.

Ancillary Jurisdiction
A term used in federal courts for when the court takes control of matters not normally under federal jurisdiction so that it can give a judgment on the entire controversy, part of which is a federal matter that it is authorized by law to determine. (See also: pendent jurisdiction)

Ancillary Probate
See: ancillary administration

Angel Investor
An affluent individual who invests in small, private companies, usually in exchange for company stock or promissory notes that are convertible into shares of company stock. Angel investors often work closely with the company's management to help with introductions or other advice to make the company more successrul.

Annual Exclusion Amount
The amount that anyone can give to any recipient, free of federal gift tax, in any calendar year. The amount is indexed for inflation and is adjusted by the IRS each year, in $1,000 increments.

Annual Exclusion Gift
A gift that is not subject to federal gift tax because it does not exceed the annual exclusion amount.

Annual Meeting
A term commonly used to refer to annual meetings of shareholders or directors of a corporation. Shareholders normally meet to elect directors or to consider major structural changes to the corporation, such as amending the articles of incorporation or merging or dissolving the corporation. Directors meet to consider or ratify important business decisions, such as borrowing money, buying real property, or hiring key employees.

Annual Percentage Rate
A yearly interest rate that includes up-front fees and costs paid to acquire the loan, calculated by taking the average compound interest rate over the term of the loan. Mortgage lenders are required to disclose the APR so that borrowers can more accurately compare the actual cost of different loans with different fees.

The beneficiary of an annuity.

A purchased policy that pays a fixed amount of benefits every year -- although most annuities actually pay monthly -- for the life of the person who is entitled to those benefits. In a simple life annuity, when the person receiving the annuity dies, the benefits stop; there is no final lump sum payment and no provision to pay benefits to a spouse or other survivor. A continuous annuity pays monthly installments for the life of the retired worker, and also provides a smaller continuing annuity for the worker's spouse or other survivor after the worker's death. A joint and survivor annuity pays monthly benefits as long as the retired worker is alive, and then continues to pay the worker's spouse for life.

A court procedure that dissolves a marriage and treats it as if it never happened. The most common reason for a person to want an annulment instead of a divorce is for religious purposes. Annulments are rare since the advent of no-fault divorce but may be obtained in most states for one of the following reasons: misrepresentation, concealment (for example, of an addiction or criminal record), misunderstanding, and refusal to consummate the marriage.

A defendant's written response to a plaintiff's initial court filing (called a complaint or petition). An answer normally denies some or all of the facts asserted by the complaint, and sometimes seeks to turn the tables on the plaintiff by making allegations or charges against the plaintiff (called counterclaims) or providing justification for the defendant's behavior (called affirmative defenses). Normally a defendant has 30 days in which to file an answer after being served with the plaintiff's complaint. In some courts, an answer is called a "response."

Antenuptial Agreement
See: prenuptial agreement

Anthony Kennedy
A U.S. Supreme Court Justice, nominated to the bench in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan. Kennedy's position in many decisions often serves as a swing vote between the conservative and liberal blocs of the Court.

A situation in which an invention is too similar to an earlier invention to be considered new (or novel). Because novelty is a requirement for patentability, anticipated inventions are not patentable. An invention is usually anticipated by 1) prior publications (a news article, trade journal article, academic thesis, or prior patent), 2) prior inventions (if all significant elements of the later invention are found in an earlier one prior to the date of invention or the applications filing date), 3) placing the invention on sale more than one year prior to an applications being filed, or 4) public use or display of the invention more than a year prior to filing the patent application. (See also: one-year rule, prior art)

Anticipatory Breach
When a party to a contract declares that he or she will not be performing his or her contractural obligations, either by word (for example, "I won't deliver the rest of the goods") or by action (for example, not showing up with goods or stopping payment). The result is that the other party to the contract is excused from having to complete his or her obligations under the agreement. Anticipatory breach is often a defense to a lawsuit for payment or performance on a contract. One cannot repudiate one's obligations and demand that the other person perform.

Anticontest Clause
See: no-contest clause

Antilapse Statute
A statute that passes a bequest in a will to the heirs of the beneficiary, if the beneficiary of the will dies before the testator.

Antitransfer Laws
Laws that penalize people who, in order to become eligible for means-tested benefits such as SSI and Medicaid, have transferred their assets to others for less than fair market value.

Antitrust Laws
Federal and state laws created to regulate trade and commerce by preventing unlawful restraints, price-fixing, and monopolies. The laws are intended to promote healthy market competition and encourage the production of quality goods and services at the lowest prices. The primary federal antitrust laws are the Sherman Act and the Clayton Act.

Antonin Scalia
U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominated to the bench in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. Scalia is one of the Court's more colorful and combative justices and is considered a conservative.

See: assessor's parcel number

Apparent Authority
The condition that arises if a third party believes that an agent has the authority to act for another person or company (called the principal) when that authority has not in reality been granted. If an agent acts with apparent authority, the agent's acts legally bind the principal. For example, a customer may believe that an employee who presents a contract on company stationery is authorized to sign that contract on behalf of the company. Even if the employee does not have the authority to enter into contracts, the company will be legally bound by the signed agreement.

A written petition to a higher court to modify or reverse a decision of a lower court (either a trial court or intermediate level appellate court). An appeal begins when the loser at trial (called the appellant) files a notice of appeal within strict time limits (often 30 days from the date of judgment). The appellant and the appellee (the winner at trial) submit written arguments and often make oral arguments explaining why the lower court's decision should be upheld or overturned.

To come to court.

When a lawyer comes to court and responds when a client's case has been called, that lawyer has appeared on behalf of the client. When an attorney makes a "general appearance," the lawyer will represent the client in all aspects of the case. An attorney may instead make a "special appearance" when the lawyer is appearing only for the purpose of what is before the court that day, as long as the judge is told of the limited nature of the appearance.

A party to a lawsuit who appeals to a higher court in an effort to have a losing decision modified or reversed.

Appellate Court
A higher court that reviews the decision of a lower court when a losing party files an appeal.

Appellate Jurisdiction
The power of a court to review and revise a lower court's decision. Compare: original jurisdiction

A party to a lawsuit who wins in the trial court -- or sometimes on a first appeal -- only to have the other party (called the appellant) file for an appeal. An appellee files a written brief responding to the appeal, and often makes an oral argument before the appellate court, asking that the lower court's judgment be upheld. In some courts, an appellee is called a respondent.

Applicable Exclusion Amount
The amount that a person can leave to any person or entity without paying federal estate tax. In addition, any property left to a qualifying charity or a spouse who is a U.S. citizen passes free of estate tax. (See also: marital deduction)

A determination of the value of something, such as a house, jewelry, or stock. A professional appraiser -- a qualified, disinterested expert -- makes an estimate by examining the property, and looking at the initial purchase price and comparing it with recent sales of similar property or items. Courts commonly order appraisals in probate, bankruptcy, or foreclosure proceedings in order to determine the fair market value of property. Banks and real estate companies use appraisals to ascertain the worth of real estate for lending purposes. And insurance companies require appraisals to determine the amount of damage done to covered property before settling insurance claims.

To professionally evaluate the value of property, such as real estate, jewelry, antique furniture, or securities; typically done in order to determine the value of assets for insurance coverage, divide partnership or beneficiary assets, set a house sales price, determine taxes, or make insurance claims.

A professional who is hired to determine the current value of real estate or other property. Some appraisers specialize in residential houses for the purpose of setting a sales price or securing a mortgage. Other appraisers specialize in particular assets, such as jewelry.

See: appreciation

An increase in the value or worth of an asset or piece of property that's caused by external economic factors occurring over time, rather than by the owner having made improvements or additions. For example, increased market demand or inflation can cause property to appreciate. The term is commonly used in the context of real estate.

The term lawyers use when they would like to have a conversation with opposing counsel and the judge, out of the earshot of the jury, as in,"Your honor, may I approach the bench?" Judges who initiate the conversation will ask, "Will counsel approach?"

Approach The Witness
A request by an attorney to the judge for permission to go up to a witness on the witness stand to show the witness a document or exhibit. "May I approach the witness?" is the typical request, and it is almost always granted.

In real property law, this describes any right or restriction which goes with that property, such as an easement to gain access across the neighbor's parcel or a covenant (agreement) against blocking the neighbor's view. Any subsequent owner has the same right or restriction.

See: annual percentage rate

A person or entity that has the legal authority to decide disputes.

Based on individual discretion, not supported by fair or substantial cause or reason, such as discriminating against someone simply because they have a beard or other personal characteristic; often used in reference to a judge's ruling in a court case.

An out-of-court procedure for resolving disputes in which one or more people -- the arbitrator(s) -- hear evidence and make a decision. Arbitration is like a trial in some ways, but typically proceeds much more quickly and with less formality.

See: arbitration

Latin for "for the sake of argument" used by lawyers in the context of "assuming arguendo" that the facts were as the other party contends, but the law prevents the other side from prevailing. For example, a lawyer might say at trial, "even assuming, arguendo, that the court finds our client, the defendant, was negligent, the other party was also so negligent that he cannot recover damages." In short, the lawyer is not admitting anything and wants only to make a legal argument.

A persuasive presentation summarizing the law and facts regarding an issue.

See: adjustable rate mortgage

Arm's Length
The description of an agreement made by two parties freely and independently of each other, and without some special relationship, such as being a relative, having another deal on the side, or one party having complete control of the other. It is relevant for determining whether an agreement was freely entered into, and the price, terms, and other conditions were fair. For example, if a man sells property to his son the price paid may not be the true value since it may not have been an "arm's length" transaction.

A court appearance in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond by entering a plea. Other matters often handled at the arraignment are arranging for the appointment of a lawyer to represent the defendant and the setting of bail. (See also: plea)

Overdue alimony or child support payments. Child support arrearages can't be discharged in bankruptcy, and courts usually will not retroactively cancel them. A spouse or parent who falls on tough times and is unable to make payments should request a temporary modification of the payments before the arrearages build up.

Money that a party fails to pay when due. Often the sum of multiple unpaid amounts, such as rent, installments on an account or promissory note, or monthly child support. A person who has failed to make payments is "in arrears" for the amount due.

Being detained by the police in a manner that, to any reasonable person, makes it clear he or she is not free to leave. A person can be "under arrest" even though the police have not announced it; nor are handcuffs or physical restraint necessary. Questioning an arrested person about involvement in or knowledge of a crime must be preceded by Miranda warnings.

Arrest Warrant
A document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the police to arrest someone. Warrants are issued when law enforcement personnel present evidence to judges or magistrates that convince themthat it is reasonably likely that a crime has taken place and that the person to be named in the warrant is criminally responsible for that crime.

The crime of intentionally setting fire to any structure. A death that results from arson is murder.

See: alternative reproductive technology

A paragraph or section of any writing, such as a portion of a corporate charter (called articles of incorporation), a will, or different sections of a statute.

Articles Of Impeachment
The formal document filed to impeach a publich official. The articles of impeachment state the charges against the official and the reasons why the official should be removed from office. Articles of impeachment must be brought by the appropriate legislative body, such as a senate, state legislature, or city council.

Articles Of Incorporation
A document filed with state authorities (usually the Secretary of State or Division of Corporations, depending on the state) to form a corporation. As required by the general incorporation law of the state, the articles normally include the purpose of the corporation, its principal place of business, the names of the initial directors who will control it, and the amounts and types of stock it is authorized to issue.

Articles Of Organization
A document filed with state authorities (usually the Secretary of State or Division of Corporations, depending on the state) to form a limited liability company (LLC). As required by the general LLC law of the state, the articles normally include the purpose of the LLC, its principal place of business, and the names of its initial members or managers.

As Is
A term in a sales contract providing that the buyer agrees to take property, such as a house, horse, auto, or appliance in its present condition, without the right to complain if it is faulty. However, the buyer must have had the right to reasonable inspection of the property, so that he or she has a chance to find any obvious deficiency before purchase.

A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault. Assault is often charged with battery, which requires intended physical contact. (See also: battery)

Assault And Battery
The combination of two crimes, of threat (assault) and actual beating (battery). Victims can also sue in a civil suit for the damages suffered as a result of the attack.

(1) To determine or evaluate the worth of a piece of property (real or personal), often for the purpose of calculating taxes. The assessed value is multiplied by the tax rate to determine the annual property tax bill. (2) The IRS process of recording a tax liability in the account of a taxpayer.

Assessed Value
The dollar amount a public tax assessor sets in deciding what a piece of property is worth; this figure is used as the basis for calculating how much property tax is owed on the property.

The government agency that sets a value on real estate parcels for the purpose of local real estate taxes.

Assessor's Parcel Number
The designation of property on the local property tax rolls. Some states or counties require the APN to be on a real estate deed before it can be recorded.

Generally, any property that has value, whether monetary or sentimental. As used by the IRS, the term means any property with a value and useful life of at least one year that is used in a trade or business -- for example, machinery, buildings, vehicles, equipment, patents, and money held by or owed to a business. (See also: capital asset, hidden asset, depreciable asset, fixed asset, liquid asset)

To transfer to another person (the assignee) all or some of the rights and responsibilities that another person (the assignor) holds under a contract. For example, a tenant may assign his lease to another person, who then has the right to live in the rental and the obligation to honor all terms of the lease. Also, to assert or point out, as in, "The appellant assigned as errors three of the judge's rulings."

Assigned Risk
A driver with a poor record who would normally be denied coverage by insurance companies, and who is assigned to a state operated or designated insurance program.

A person to whom a property right is transferred. For example, an assignee may take over a lease from a tenant who wants to permanently move out before the lease expires. The assignee takes control of the property and assumes all the legal rights and responsibilities of the tenant, including payment of rent. However, the original tenant remains legally responsible if the assignee fails to pay the rent.

1) A transfer of property or ownership rights from one person to another, called the "assignee." For example, a lease may be assigned from one tenant to another. Or, ownership rights for a patent, copyright, trademark, or trade secret may be transferred by assignment. 2) The property or rights that are transferred.

Assignment For Benefit Of Creditors
A voluntary transfer of a debtor's property into a trust to be used to pay creditors. The trustee collects any income owed the debtor, liquidates the debtor's property that has been transferred to the trust, and uses the money to pay the debtor's creditors. The debtor receives any money left over once all debts are paid.

Assisted Suicide
Suicide of a terminally ill or otherwise incapable person with help (such as painless drugs) from a physician, family member, or other individual. A form of euthanasia, assisted suicide is illegal in almost all states.

In a professional organzation, a junior professional; for example, in a law firm, a lawyer with less experience than a partner.

Associate Justice
Any U.S. Supreme Court Justice, other than the Chief Justice.

A group of people who have joined together for a common purpose. Unlike a corporation, an association is not a legal entity. To make this distinction the term "unincorporated association" is often used, although technically redundant.

Assumable Mortgage
A home mortgage that allows the buyer to take over the seller's mortgage; that is, to step into the seller's shoes, make mortgage payments, and comply with other terms of the existing loan. Most lenders require the borrower to qualify for the mortgage in order to assume the mortgage.

1) To take over another person's rights and/or obligations. For example, one person might assume another's car lease, residential lease, or debt. 2) In bankruptcy, for the bankruptcy trustee to take over an unexpired lease or executory contract. The bankruptcy trustee has the right to assume or reject these agreements. If the trustee assumes a lease or contract, he or she can either allow the agreement to continue in force or assign that agreement, if the trustee believes doing so could raise money for the debtors creditors.

See: assume, assumption of risk

Assumption Of Risk
1) An affirmative defense in a negligence case, in which the defendant claims that the situation (taking a ski-lift, climbing a steep cliff) was so inherently or obviously hazardous that the injured plaintiff must have known of the risk, but took the chance of being injured. 2) The act of contracting to take over a risk, such as buying the right to a shipment and accepting the danger that it could be damaged or prove unprofitable.

The person or entity that is insured, often found in insurance contracts.

Also sometimes called "political asylum." This is a legal status granted to someone who has fled to the United States and submitted an application proving that he or she fears persecution if forced to return to his or her home country. (The grounds are the same as for refugee status, but the application process is different -- refugees apply while they're still outside the United States.) Asylees can apply for a green card one year after their asylum approval.

At Issue Memorandum
A document that states that all parties to a case have been served, that the parties disagree (or are "at issue") over one or more points that need to be resolved at trial, and how much time the parties estimate will be required for trial.

At-Will Employment
An employment arrangement in which the employee may quit at any time, and the employer may fire the employee for any reason that is not illegal. For example, an employer may fire an at-will employee for poor performance, to cut costs, or because the employer simply doesn't like the employee, but may not fire an at-will employee for discriminatory reasons, to retaliate against the employee for reporting harassment, or because the employee exercised a legal right.

1) In real estate, when equipment, shelving, or furniture is solidly incorporated into a structure, such as bolted to the floor or wired to the ceiling (and not capable of being removed without damage to the structure). If an item is so attached it probably has become a part of the real estate and is called a fixture. 2) In creditor lawsuits, refers to money or property that is seized by court order, based on evidence that the owner of the money or property may soon depart to avoid payment of the debt.

The seizing of a person's property to secure a judgment or to be sold to satisfy a judgment. This is usually performed by a sheriff, based on a writ of attachment issued by a judge.

Starting but not completing an intended criminal act. Attempts involve more than just thinking about doing a criminal act or planning it without at least some concrete steps. Attempted crimes can include attempted murder, attempted robbery, attempted rape, attempted forgery, attempted arson, and a host of other crimes. Attempts are often punished less severely than completed crimes.

To state and confirm that something is true or genuine. For example, witnesses to a will attest that the will maker signed the document and declared it to be his or her will.

The act of watching someone sign a legal document, such as a will or power of attorney, and then signing your own name as a witness. When you witness a document in this way, you are attesting -- that is, stating and confirming -- that the person whom you watched sign the document in fact did so. Attesting to a document does not mean that you are vouching for its accuracy or truthfulness. You are only acknowledging that you watched it being signed by the person whose name is on the signature line.

Attestation Clause
A provision at the end of a will or other legal document that sets out the legal requirements of the document and states that those requirements have been met. By signing the attestation clause, a person is stating and confirming that everything within the clause is true.

1) An agent or someone authorized to act for another. 2) A person authorized to practice law by a state following a bar examination and the meeting of other qualifying requirements.

Attorney At Law (Or Attorney-At-Law)
See: attorney

Attorney Fees
See: attorney's fee

Attorney General
Head of the United States Department of Justice and chief law officer of the federal government. The Attorney General represents the United States in legal matters, oversees federal prosecutors, and provides legal advice to the president and to heads of executive governmental departments. Each state also has an attorney general, responsible for advising the governor and state agencies and departments about legal issues, and overseeing state prosecuting attorneys.

Attorney Of Record
The attorney who has appeared in court or signed pleadings or other forms on behalf of a client. This attorney will remain the attorney of record on a case until the client dismisses the attorney, the court allows the attorney to withdraw, or the case is closed.

Attorney Work Product
Written materials, charts, notes of conversations and investigations, and other materials related to a the preparation of a case or other legal representation. Their importance is that they cannot be required to be introduced in court or otherwise revealed to the other side.

Attorney Work Product Privilege
A rule that protects materials prepared by a lawyer in preparation for trial from being seen and used by the adversary during discovery or trial.

Attorney's Fee
The payment made to a lawyer for legal services. These fees may take several forms: hourly, per job or service -- for example, $350 to draft a will, contingency (the lawyer collects a percentage of any money she wins for her client and nothing if there is no recovery), or retainer (usually a down payment as part of an hourly or per job fee agreement). Attorney fees must usually be paid by the client who hires a lawyer, though occasionally a law or contract will require the losing party of a lawsuit to pay the winner's court costs and attorney fees. For example, a contract might contain a provision that says the loser of any lawsuit between the parties to the contract will pay the winner's attorney fees. Many laws designed to protect consumers also provide for attorney fees -- for example, most state laws that require landlords to provide habitable housing also specify that a tenant who sues and wins using that law may collect attorney fees. And in family law cases -- divorce, custody and child support -- judges often have the power to order the more affluent spouse to pay the other spouse's attorney fees, even where there is no clear victor.

Attorney-Client Privilege
A rule that keeps communications between an attorney and client confidential and protects everything said between attorney and client from being discovered by the opposing party during pretrial investigation, or used as evidence in a trial. The same type of privilege exists between physician and patient, clergy and parishioner, and spouses.

A person named in a written power of attorney document to act on behalf of the person who signs the document, called the principal. The attorney-in-fact's power and responsibilities depend on the specific powers granted in the power of attorney document. An attorney-in-fact is an agent of the principal.

Attractive Nuisance
Something on a piece of property that attracts children but also endangers their safety. For example, unfenced swimming pools, open pits, farm equipment, and abandoned refrigerators have all qualified as attractive nuisances. Landowners have a duty to keep their property free of attractive nuisances.

Attractive Nuisance Doctrine
A legal doctrine that makes a property owner responsible for harm caused by leaving a piece of equipment or other condition on the property that would be both attractive and dangerous to curious children. Examples of attractive nuisances are tools and construction equipment, unguarded swimming pools, open pits, and abandoned refrigerators.

An examination of the financial records of a person, business, or organization, typically done to correct careless or improper bookkeeping or to verify that proper records are being kept. Businesses and nonprofits often undergo an annual audit by an independent accounting firm. The IRS also conducts audits, mainly to assess taxes owed.

A person authorized to conduct an audit to verify the accuracy of the financial records and accounting practices of a business or government. Many counties have an appointed or elected Auditor to make independent audits of all governmental agencies in the county government. The term "auditor" is often misused as meaning any accountant.

Augmented Estate
Generally, property owned by both a deceased person and the surviving spouse, plus any property the deceased spouse gave away shortly before death. The concept of an augmented estate is used only in some states. Its value is calculated only if a surviving spouse declines to take what was left by will and instead claims a share of the deceased spouse's estate. (This is called taking against the will.) The amount of the surviving spouse's "statutory share" or "elective share" depends on state law.

To offer testimony that tells the judge what an item of evidence is and its connection to the case. The purpose of authentication is usually to establish that the evidence can be admitted for purposes of making a decision in the case.

Under copyright law, the person who creates the work, or the person or business that pays another to create the work under a work for hire arrangement.

1) A power to act or to order others to act. Often one person or entity gives another the authority to act, as an employer to an employee, a principal to an agent, a corporation to its officers, or a government to an agency. 2) A court decision used to make a point or support an argument.

To officially empower someone to act. (See also: authority)

Automatic Stay
An injunction that goes into effect automatically when a debtor files for bankruptcy. The automatic stay prohibits most creditor collection activities, such as filing or continuing lawsuits, making written requests for payment, or notifying credit reporting agencies of an unpaid debt.

A physician's examination of the body of a deceased person to determine the cause of death.

Any amount available to the owner of an insurance policy other than the actual proceeds of the policy. Avails include dividend payments, interest, cash or surrender value (the money you would get if you sold your policy back to the insurance company) and loan value (the amount of cash you can borrow against the policy).

To positively declare or assert something, especially in a legal pleading; to allege. For example,"the witness avers that the defendant ran the red light."

An assertion or affirmation of fact, especially a positive declaration or allegation in a legal pleading. For instance, "the plaintiff

A direct statement or declaration. Often refers to a sworn statement a witness makes after the judge rules that his or her testimony will not be admitted at trial. The avowal creates a record of what the witness would have said, which may be considered by a higher court if a party appeals the judge's refusal to allow the testimony.

Change in the border of two properties due to a sudden change in the natural course of a stream or river, such as a flood, when the border is defined by the channel of the waterway. A famous American case is the Mississippi River's change which put Vicksburg on the other side of the river.

1) The written decision of an arbitrator or commissioner (or any nonjudicial arbiter) setting out the arbitratror's award. 2) The amount awarded in a money judgment to a party to a lawsuit, arbitration, or administrative claim. Example: "Plaintiff is awarded $27,000."