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Legal Terms Glossary.

Select the letter below to browse terms that begin with that letter.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  • ab initio
  • Latin for "from the beginning." This term is used by lawyers intent upon getting their money's worth from a liberal arts education by uttering such statements as "The judge was against me ab initio."




  • AB trust
  • A trust that allows couples to reduce or avoid estate taxes. Each spouse puts his or her property in an AB trust. When the first spouse dies, his or her half of the property goes to the beneficiaries named in the trust -- commonly, the grown children of the couple -- with the crucial condition that the surviving spouse has the right to use the property for life and is entitled to any income it generates. The surviving spouse may even be allowed to spend principal in certain circumstances. When the surviving spouse dies, the property passes to the trust beneficiaries. It is not considered part of the second spouse's estate for estate tax purposes. Using this kind of trust keeps the second spouse's taxable estate half the size it would be if the property were left directly to the spouse. This type of trust is also known as a bypass or credit shelter trust.




  • abandonment (of a child)
  • A parent's failure to provide any financial assistance to or communicate with his or her child over a period of time. When this happens, a court may deem the child abandoned by that parent and order that person's parental rights terminated. Abandonment also describes situations in which a child is physically abandoned -- for example, left on a doorstep, delivered to a hospital or put in a trash can. Physically abandoned children are usually placed in orphanages and made available for adoption.




  • abandonment (of a spouse)
  • See desertion.




  • abandonment (of trademark)
  • A situation in which the owner of a trademark or service mark does not use the mark for an extended period of time, fails to protest the unauthorized use of the mark by others or lets others use the mark without adequate supervision. If a trademark is abandoned, the owner loses her exclusive rights to the mark.




  • abatement
  • A reduction. After a death, abatement occurs if the deceased person didn't leave enough property to fulfill all the bequests made in the will and meet other expenses. Gifts left in the will are cut back in order to pay taxes, satisfy debts or take care of other gifts that are given priority under law or by the will itself.




  • abstract of title
  • A short history of a piece of land that lists any transfers in ownership, as well as any liabilities attached to it, such as mortgages.




  • abstract of trust
  • A condensed version of a living trust document, which leaves out details of what is in the trust and the identity of the beneficiaries. You can show an abstract of trust to a financial organization or other institution to prove that you have established a valid living trust, without revealing specifics that you want to keep private. In some states, this document is called a "certification of trust."




  • abuse
  • Misuse of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy remedy. This term is typically applied to Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings that should have been filed under Chapter 13, because the debtor appears to have enough disposable income to fund a Chapter 13 repayment plan.




  • accessory
  • Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime. For example, hiding a robber who is being sought by the police might make you an "accessory after the fact" to a robbery. Compare accomplice.




  • accompanying relative
  • An immediate family member of someone who immigrates to the United States. In most cases, a person who is eligible to receive some type of visa or green card can also obtain green cards or similar visas for accompanying relatives. Accompanying relatives include spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.




  • accomplice
  • Someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An accomplice is guilty of the same offense and usually receives the same sentence as the principal. For instance, the driver of the getaway car for a burglary is an accomplice and will be guilty of the burglary even though he may not have entered the building.




  • accord and satisfaction
  • An agreement to settle a contract dispute by accepting less than what's due. This procedure is often used by creditors who want to cut their losses by collecting as much money as they can from debtors who cannot pay the full amount.




  • accumulation trust
  • A trust in which the income is retained and not paid out to beneficiaries until certain conditions are met. For example, if Uncle Pierre creates a trust for Nick's benefit but stipulates that Nick will not get a penny until he gets a Ph.D. in French; Nick is the beneficiary of an accumulation trust.




  • acknowledged father
  • The biological father of a child born to an unmarried couple who has been established as the father either by his admission or by an agreement between him and the child's mother. An acknowledged father must pay child support.