Glossary of Legal Terms – A




This glossary should not be relied upon as legal advice. It is provided for general informational purposes only. To properly advise on any given situation requires a knowledge of the facts surrounding that situation. Laws and the statutory definitions of terms will vary from state to state. Specific questions should be directed to an attorney licensed in your state.

Ab initio: Latin for “from the beginning.”
Abandonment: The act of a trustee relinquishing possession and control of property out of the estate and giving it back to the debtor.

Abduction: Unlawfully taking another.

Absolute divorce: Declaration by a court that the marriage has been dissolved so that the parties are no longer married to each other and are free to marry someone else.

Absolute priority rule: In a Chapter 11 case, the rule that no junior class of claims or interests may receive anything of value from the estate unless a more senior non-accepting class of unsecured claims or interests is paid in full.

Abstract of judgment,law: The summary of a court judgment that creates a lien against a property when filed with the county recorder.
Accelerated cost recovery system: A tax calculation that provides greater depreciation in the early years of ownership of real estate or personal property.

Accelerated depreciation: A bookkeeping method that depreciates property faster in the early years of ownership.

Acceleration clause: A provision that gives a lender the right to collect the balance of a loan if a borrower misses a payment.

Acceptance: The seller’s written approval of a buyer’s offer.
Access: Any means by which a person can enter property.

Accessibility: The degree to which a building or site allows access to people with disabilities.

Accolate: Medicine prescribed for prophylaxis and treatment of chronic asthma in patients 12 years and older. Has shown to cause liver dysfunction, particularly in females.

Accretion: The gradual addition to the shore or bank of a waterway by deposits of sand or silt.

Accutane: A brand of prescription medicine used to treat severe nodular acne that has not responded to other treatments such as antibiotics. Accutane may cause serious side effects, including birth defects and mental disorders.

Acetaminophen: A medication effective for relieving mild pain and fever. It is also used as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

Acknowledgment: A written declaration affirming that a person acted voluntarily.

Acre foot: The volume of material needed to cover an acre of land one foot deep.

Acre: A measurement of land equal to 43,560 square feet.

Action or civil action: An adversary proceeding or a contested petition or proceedings to vacate an order for relief or to determine any other contested matter. .

Active solar system: A system that utilizes electric pumps or fans to transfer solar energy for storage or direct use.
Actual age: The number of years a structure has been standing.

Ad Litem: A Latin term meaning for the purposes of the lawsuit. For example, a guardian “ad litem” is a person appointed by the court to protect the interests of a minor or legally incompetent person in a lawsuit.

Addendum: An addition or change to a contract.

Addiction: A physiological and psychological compulsion for a habit-forming substance. In extreme cases, an addiction may become an overwhelming obsession.

Additional principal payment: Extra money included in the monthly payment to help reduce the principal and shorten the term of the loan.

Additur: An increase by a judge in the amount of damages awarded by a jury.

Add-on interest: The interest a borrower pays on the principal for the duration of the loan.

Adequate protection: Security, collateral or some other measure undertaken or provided by the debtor in bankruptcy, to protect a claim holder from depreciation of its collateral pending confirmation of a plan, for the period during which the debtor has continued possession or use of the collateral.

Adjudicate: To decide a legal case.

Adjudication: The final order, pronouncement or judgment of a court or other tribunal.

Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) A loan with an interest rate that is periodically adjusted to reflect changes in a specified financial index.

Adjusted cost basis: The cost of any improvements the seller makes to the property. Deducting the cost from the original sales price provides the profit or loss of a home when it is sold.

Adjuster: An employee or agent of an insurance company who handles a casualty claim.

Adjustment period: The amount of time between interest rate adjustments in an adjustable-rate mortgage.

Administrative Agency: Governmental body responsible for administering and implementing a particular legislation, such as laws governing traffic safety or workers’ compensation. These agencies may have rule making power and judge-like authority to decide disputes.

Administrative expenses: Actual and necessary costs and expenses involved in preserving an estate, including wages, salaries, or commissions for services rendered.

Administrative Hearing: Proceeding before an administrative agency which consists of an argument, a trial, or both. Rules governing the proceeding, including rules of evidence, are generally less strict than in civil or criminal trials.

Administrator’s deed: A legal document that an administrator of an estate uses to transfer property.

Administrator: A person given authority to manage and distribute the estate of someone who died without leaving a will.

Administrator: Person appointed by a court to administer a deceased person’s estate. The person may be male (in which case, he would be referred to as the “administrator”) or female (in which case, she would be referred to as the “administratrix”).

Admissible evidence: Evidence that can be legally and properly introduced in a civil or criminal trial.

Admission: A statement or confession by a party to a lawsuit acknowledging that certain facts which may be against his interests are true.

Adultery: Sexual relations between a married person and another who is not that person’s spouse.

Adversary matter: A dispute in a bankruptcy proceeding that may be adjudicated by means of an adversary proceeding (lawsuit) filed in bankruptcy court.

Adversary Proceeding: Legal proceeding involving parties with opposing interests, with one party seeking legal relief and the other opposing it.

Adverse possession: The acquisition of title to property through possession without the owner’s consent for a certain period of time.

Adverse use: The access and use of property without the owner’s consent.

Advocate: One who renders legal advice, assistance or argues on behalf of a party before a court or tribunal; a lawyer.

Aeolian soil: Soil that is composed of materials deposited by the wind.

Affiant: A person who makes a sworn statement.

Affiant: A person who makes and signs an affidavit.

Affidavit: A written statement of facts confirmed by the oath of the party making it, before a notary or officer having authority to administer oaths. For example, in criminal cases, affidavits are often used by police officers seeking to convince courts to grant a warrant to make an arrest or a search. In civil cases, affidavits of witnesses are often used to support motions for summary judgment.

Affirmation: A substitution for an oath granted to people based on religious reasons.

Affirmation: A declaration acknowledging that the person will tell the truth under penalty of perjury. Affirmations may be made by individuals who object to taking an oath on religious grounds.

Affirmative Defense: A written defense to a lawsuit which does not formally deny certain allegations in a complaint, but asserts that the plaintiff is not entitled to judgment based upon legal or equitable principles, even if the allegations are true.

A-frame design: An interior style that features a steeply peaked roofline and a ceiling that is open to the top rafters.

Agency closing: The process by which a lender uses a title company or other firm as an agent to complete a loan.

Agency: The relationship of trust that exists between sellers and buyers and their agents. The agency is formed through a written contract.

Agent: A person licensed by the state to conduct real estate transactions.

Agonist Opioid: A powerful type of narcotic that works by blocking signals to pain receptors in the brain. This process also raises the level of dopamine in the brain, creating a feeling of euphoria.

Agreed boundary: A compromise boundary to which property owners agree in order to resolve a dispute.

Agreement of sale: A document the buyer initiates and the seller approves that details the price and terms of the transaction.

Agreement: Mutual assent between two or more parties; normally leads to a contract; may be verbal or written.

Alcove: A recessed section of a room, such as a breakfast nook.

Alienation clause: A provision that requires the borrower to pay the balance of the loan in a lump sum after the property is sold or transferred.

Alienation of action: The defendant diminishes the martial relationship between the plaintiff and the latter’s spouse.

Alimony: Money or other property paid to support one’s spouse after a divorce or separation, in some cases.

Alkali: Mineral salt found in soil.

Alkaline soil: Soil that contains a higher concentration of mineral salt than natural acid.

Allegation: A statement made in a pleading by one of the parties to the action and tells what that party intends to prove.

Allege: To state, assert or declare.

Alley: A lane behind a row of buildings or between two rows of buildings.

Allowances: Budgets offered by builders of new homes for the purchase of carpeting and fixtures.


Allowed claim: A claim or debt deemed allowed in a bankruptcy case

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Settling a dispute without a full, formal trial. Methods include mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and settlement, among others.

Alternative mortgage: Any home loan that does not conform to a standard fixed-rate mortgage.

Aluminum siding: A metal covering that provides an alternative to paint for owners of wood homes.

Aluminum-clad windows: Wooden windows with aluminum covering the exterior.

Amendment: A change or addition which improves or supplements another written document.

Amenities: Parks, swimming pools, health-club facilities, party rooms, bike paths, community centers and other enticements offered by builders of planned developments.

American Society of Home Inspectors: The American Society of Home Inspectors is a professional association of independent home inspectors.

Americans with Disabilities Act: A law passed in 1990 that outlaws discrimination against a person with a disability in housing, public accommodations, employment, government services, transportation and telecommunications.

Amicable: Friendly; mutually agreed to, as a settlement.

Amicus Curiae: (Latin: “friend of the court.”) Person or organization that files a legal brief with the court expressing its views on a case involving other parties because it has a strong interest in the subject matter of the action.

Amortization tables: Mathematical tables that lenders use to calculate a borrower’s monthly payment.

Amortization: The process of paying the principal and interest on a loan through regularly scheduled installments.

Amperage: The strength of an electrical current.

Analgesic: Generic term for medications that relieve pain. Some analgesics like aspirin have a low pain-relieving threshold, whereas others like Oxycodone have a much higher ceiling.

Anchor bolt: A large steel bolt anchored in concrete and attached to a building to prevent the structure from moving.

Anesthesia Injury: An injury sustained from incorrectly administered anesthetics.

Annual mortgagor statement: A yearly statement to borrowers that details the remaining principal and amounts paid for taxes and interest.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) : The cost of the loan expressed as a yearly rate on the balance of the loan.

Annual: Any kind of plant that must be planted every year.

Annuity: The payment of a fixed sum to an investor at regular intervals.

Annulment: A declaration by the court that a valid marriage never existed.

Answer: Written response in which the defendant admits or denies the allegations contained in the complaint.

Antecedent debt: A debt that is accrued or acquired prior to the debtor making a payment to the creditor on account of the debts

Anti-alienation clause: A term or provision of a trust that forbids transfer of the debtor’s beneficial interest in the trust to another.

Anticipatory breach: A communication that informs a party that the obligations of the original contract will not be fulfilled.

Antidepressants: A type of drug used to control or reduce depression. Some antidepressants have been found to have serious side effects.

Apgar Score: When a child is born, a physician will take note of his or her activity – muscle tone, pulse, grimace, reflex irritability, appearance, skin color, and respiration. These observations are made once immediately following birth and once five minutes later. A score of zero to ten is then calculated. A low score alerts a doctor that resuscitation may be necessary and a high score reassures a doctor that the baby is healthy.

Appeal: Request to a superior or higher court to review and change the result in a case decided by an inferior or lower court or administrative agency.

Appearance: 1. The formal proceeding by which a defendant submits to the jurisdiction of the court. 2. A written notification to the plaintiff by an attorney stating that he or she is representing the defendant.

Appellate Court: A court having jurisdiction to hear an appeal and review the decisions of a lower or inferior court.

Application fee: The fee that a lender charges to process a loan application.

Application: A document that details a potential borrower’s income, debt and other obligations to determine credit worthiness.

Appraisal fee: The fee that an appraiser charges to estimate the market value of the property.

Appraisal report: A detailed written report on the value of a property based on recent sales of comparable sites in the area.

Appraisal: An opinion of the value of a property at a given point in time.

Appraisal: A valuation of property by a disinterested party who is qualified to do so (appraiser).

Appraised value: An opinion of the current market value of a property.

Appreciation: An increase in the value of a home or other property..

Arava: An oral medicine prescribed to slow the progress of rheumatoid arthritis. Arava may cause liver dysfunction and birth defects.

Arbitration Clause: A provision in a contract providing for arbitration in lieu of a court action.

Arbitration: A method of resolving a dispute in which a third party renders a decision.

Arbitration: A form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties bring their dispute to a neutral third party and agree to abide by his or her decision. In arbitration there is a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard.

Arbitrator: A person who conducts arbitration.

Arbor: An area shaded by trees, shrubs or vines on a latticework structure.

Arch: A curved structure that supports weight over an area, such as a doorway.

Architect: A licensed professional who designs homes, buildings and other structures.

Architectural fees: The fee an architect charges for services. In general, architects charge for their services by the hour, by the square foot, or by a percentage of the project budget.

Arpent: A French measurement of land equal to .84625 acres.

Asbestos: A fire-resistant mineral used for insulation and home products that has been found to pose a health hazard.


Asbestos: A fibrous silicate mineral that was once commonly used in construction. People who have been exposed to asbestos over a period of time may develop asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

Asbestosis: A disease that afflicts people who have been exposed asbestos fibers. Scar tissue builds up in the lungs, causing breathing difficulty and an increased risk of infection.

As-is condition: The purchase or sale of a property in its existing condition.

Asking price: A seller’s initial price for a property.

Assault: A willful attempt or threat to harm another person, coupled with the present ability to inflict injury on that person, which causes apprehension in that person. Although the term “assault” is frequently used to describe the use of illegal force, the correct legal term for use of illegal force is “battery”.

Assessed value: A tax assessor’s determination of the value of a home in order to calculate a tax base.

Assessment rolls: A list of taxable property compiled by the assessor.

Assessment: The estimated value of a piece of real estate or a levy placed on property in addition to taxes.

Assets: Items of value which include cash, real estate, securities and investments.

Assignment: A transfer of a right or property and duties in connection with a contract, to another.

Assignor: A person who transfers rights and interests of a property.

Assumable mortgage: A mortgage that can be transferred to another borrower.

Assumption clause: A provision that allows a buyer to take responsibility for the mortgage from a seller.

Assumption fee: A fee the lender charges to process new records for a buyer who assumes an existing loan.

Assumption of risk: A defendant’s allegation that the injured plaintiff recognized the danger of the plaintiff’s course of action but, nonetheless, willingly chose to risk such danger.

Assumption: A debtor or the estate may assume or reject a lease or executory contract; the act of continuing to be responsible for the lease or contract.

Athetosis: Involuntary movements – uncontrolled/unwanted movements.

Attest: To affirm to be true; to act as a witness by signing.

Attorney of Record: The principal attorney in a lawsuit, who signs all formal documents relating to the suit.

Attorney: One licensed to practice law under state rules (admitted to the bar); an agent appointed to act in place of another; an advocate.

Attorney-Client Privilege: Client’s privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and his or her attorney.

Attorney-in-Fact: A private person (who is not necessarily a lawyer) authorized by another to act in his or her place, either for some particular purpose, as to do a specific act, or for the transaction of business in general, not of legal character. This authority is conferred by an instrument in writing, called a letter of attorney, or more commonly a power of attorney.

Average price: The price of a home determined by totaling the sales prices of all houses sold in an area and dividing that number by the number of homes.

Avigation easement: An easement over private property near an airport that limits the height of structures and trees.

Avoidance of lien: The act of obtaining a release from the effect of a lien, judgment or security interest in property, typically in connection with exempt property but also on any grounds provided by the Bankruptcy Code.

Avoidance powers: The trustee’s or debtor’s powers to avoid a lien.

Awning windows: Single-sash windows that tilt outward and up