Glossary of Popular Legal Terms

   
   

Abatement
A reduction in some amount that is owed, usually granted by the person to whom the debt is owed. For example, a landlord might grant an abatement in rent. In estate law, the word may refer more specifically to a situation where property identified in a will cannot be given to the beneficiary because it had to be sold to pay off the deceased debts. Debts are paid before gifts made in wills are distributed and where a specific gift has to be sold to pay off a debt, it is said to "abate" (compare with "ademption").

Adverse possession
The possession of land, without legal title, for a period of time sufficient to become recognized as legal owner. The more common word for this is "squatters."

Bare trust
A trust that has become passive for the trustee because all the duties the settlor may have imposed upon the trustee have been performed or any conditions or terms have come to fruition, such as there is no longer any impediment to the transfer of the property to the beneficiary.

Beneficiary
In a legal context, a "beneficiary" usually refers to the person for whom a trust has been created. May also be referred to as a "donee" or, for legal tecchies, as a cestui que trust. Trusts are made to advantage a beneficiary ( ie. A settlor (also called a "donor") transfers property to a trustee, the profits of which are to be given to the beneficiairy).

Breach of contract
The failure to do what one promised to do under a contract. Proving a breach of contract is a prerequisite of any suit for damages based on the contract.

Chattel mortgage
When an interest is given on moveable property other than real property (in which case it is usually a "mortgage"), in writing, to guarantee the payment of a debt or the execution of some action. It automatically becomes void when the debt is paid or the action is executed.

Company
A legal entity, allowed by legislation, which permits a group of people, as shareholders, to create an organization, which can then focus on persuing set objectives, and empowered with legal rights which are usually only reserved for individuals, such as to sue and be sued, own property, hire employees or loan and borrow money. Also known as a "corporation." The primary advantage of a company structure is that it provides the shareholders with a right to participate in the profits (by dividends) without any personal liability (the company absorbs the entire liability of the business).

Joint tenancy
When two or more persons are equally owners of some property. The unique aspect of joint tenancy is that as the joint tenancy owners die, their shares accrue to the surviving owner(s) so that, eventually, the entire share is held by one person. A valid joint tenancy is said to require the "four unities": unity of interest (each joint tenant must have an equal interest including equality of duration and extent), unity of title (the interests must arise from the same document), unity of possession (each joint tenant must have an equal right to occupy the entire property) and unity of time: the interests of the joint tenants must arise at the same time.

Living will
A document that sets out guidelines for dealing with life-sustaining medical procedures in the eventuality of the signatory's sudden debilitation. Living wills would, for example, inform medical staff not to provide extraordinary life-preserving procedures on their bodies if they are incapable of expressing themselves and suffering from an incurable and terminal condition.

Power of attorney
A document which gives a person the right to make binding decisions for another, as an agent. A power of attorney may be specific to a certain kind of decision or general, in which the agent makes all major decisions for the person who is the subject of the power of attorney. The person signing the power of attorney is usually referred to, in law, as the donor and the person that would exercise the power of attorney, the donee.

Promissory note
An unconditional, written and signed promise to pay a certain amount of money, on demand or at a certain defined date in the future. Contrary to a bill of exchange, a promissory note is not drawn on any third party holding the payor's money; it is a direct promise from the payor to the payee.

Will
A written and signed statement, made by an individual, which provides for the disposition of their property when they die.