Glossary of Legal Terms – B



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.

Back fill:   Soil used to solidify the foundation of a structure.

Back title letter:   A letter that a title insurance company gives to an attorney who then examines the title for insurance purposes.

Back-to-back escrow:   Arrangements that an owner makes to oversee the sale of one property and the purchase of another at the same time.

Backup offer:   A secondary bid for a property that the seller will accept if the first offer fails.

Backwater valve:   A valve in a sewer line that prevents sewage from flowing back into a house.

Bad Faith: Willful or dishonest conduct in a situation where a party owes a financial or other duty to a third party.

Badges of fraud: Various kinds of conduct that may suggest fraudulent intent on the part of the debtor.

Bail Bond: An obligation signed by the accused to secure his or her presence at the trial. This obligation means that the accused may lose money by not properly appearing for the trial. Often referred to simply as bond.

Bail: Money or other security (such as a bail bond) provided to the court to temporarily allow a person’s release from jail and assure their appearance in court. “Bail” and “bond” are often used interchangeably.

Bailiff: Court officer responsible for keeping order in the court, custody of the jury, and custody of prisoners while in court.

Balance sheet:   A statement that shows the assets, liabilities and net worth of an individual.

Balloon loan:   A mortgage in which monthly installments are not large enough to repay the loan by the end of the term. As a result, the final payment due is the lump sum of the remaining principal.

Balloon payment:   The final lump sum payment due at the end of a balloon mortgage.

Balloon-frame construction:   A type of framing used in two-story homes in which studs extend from the ground to the ceiling of the second floor.

Balustrade:   Railing held up by a set of posts on a porch or stairway.

Bankruptcy Act of 1898: The bankruptcy statute enacted in 1898 and repealed in 1978 to be replaced by the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 (the current statute followed for bankruptcy cases).

Bankruptcy estate: All legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property at the time of the bankruptcy filing.

Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978: The 1978 statute under which bankruptcy would be governed, establishing the current Bankruptcy Code and replacing the former Bankruptcy Act.

Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994: The 1994 legislation amending the Bankruptcy Code. This enactment included provisions to expedite bankruptcy proceedings, standardize fees, and encourage consumers to file chapter 13 instead of chapter 7. Created the National Bankruptcy Review Commission to do a thorough review of the Bankruptcy Code and recommendations for additional changes.

Bankruptcy rules: Also known as the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the rules that govern the procedures in bankruptcy and adversary cases. In addition to these rules, each bankruptcy court typically adopts is own “local rules” that supplement the Federal Rules.

Bankruptcy:   A proceeding in which an insolvent debtor can obtain relief from payment of certain obligations. Bankruptcies remain on a credit record for seven years and can severely limit a person’s ability to borrow.

Bankruptcy: Refers to statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts and seek the assistance of the court in getting a fresh start. Under the protection of the bankruptcy court, debtors may be released from or “discharged” from their debts, perhaps by paying a portion of each debt. Bankruptcy judges preside over these proceedings. The person with the debts is called the debtor and the people or companies to whom the debtor owes money to are called creditors.

Bar Examination: A state examination taken by prospective lawyers in order to be admitted and licensed to practice law.

Bar: 1. Historically, the partition separating the general public from the space occupied by the judges, lawyers, and other participants in a trial. 2. More commonly, the term means the whole body of lawyers.

Bargain sale:   The sale of a piece of property for less than market value.

Baseboard electric heat:   Heating units installed in the floor that can be controlled by a central thermostat.

Baseboard:   Any board or molding found at the bottom of an interior wall.

Basement:   The area of a home below ground level.

Basis Point:   A basis point is one one-hundredth of one percentage point. For example, the difference between a loan at 8.25 percent and a mortgage at 8.37 percent is 12 basis points.

Battery: The unlawful use of force resulting in the injury of another.Battery always includes assault. See assault.

Baxter Dialysis Filter: A filter for dialysis machines produced by Baxter International, Inc. The manufacturer has recalled certain filters that were found to be defective.

Bay window:   A window that projects outward in a curve.

Bay:   The opening between two columns or walls that forms a space.

Baycol: Originally prescribed to lower cholesterol, Baycol has been voluntarily recalled by Bayer Pharmaceuticals because it was linked to Rhabdomyolysis, which can be fatal.

Bearing wall:   A wall that supports its own weight in addition to other parts of a structure.

Before-tax income:   Total income before taxes are deducted.

Bench Trial or Non-jury Trial: Trial before a judge and without a jury. In a bench trial, the judge decides questions of law and questions of fact.

Bench Warrant: An order issued by a judge for the arrest of a person.

Bench: The seat occupied by the judge. More broadly, the court itself.

Beneficiary:   The lender who makes a loan, also called a mortgagee. The person borrowing money is the mortgagor.

Beneficiary: Person named in a document, such as a will or insurance policy that receives a benefit.

Benzene: A chemical that is frequently used in manufacturing and present in industrial fumes. Benzene exposure can cause cancer and other health complications.

Bequeath: To give a gift to someone through a will.

Bequest:   Personal property given to a person through a will.

Bequests: Gifts made in a will.

Best Evidence: The most direct evidence possible, such as producing an original document to prove that the document exists and what it states. A copy of a document or testimony by a witness would be “secondary evidence.” The best evidence rule prohibits the introduction of secondary evidence unless best evidence cannot be obtained, so long as the party seeking to introduce the secondary evidence is not at fault in making the best evidence incapable of being obtained.

Best interests test: Under the “test” the plan must provide to pay the general unsecured creditors at least as much as they would have been paid had the debtor filed in Chapter 7 instead.

Betterment:   An improvement that increases a property’s value as opposed to repairs that maintain the value.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The standard in a criminal case requiring that the jury be satisfied to a moral certainty that every element of a crime has been proven by the prosecution. This standard of proof does not require that the state establish absolute certainty by eliminating all doubt, but it does require that the evidence be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of the ordinary person.

Bidding war:   Offers from multiple buyers for a piece of property. Agents also sometimes compete to list a house for sale.

Bilateral contract:   A contract in which the parties involved give mutual promises. Also called “reciprocal” contracts.

Bill of Particulars: A statement of the details of the charge made against the defendant.

Bill of sale: A document that transfers ownership of personal property.   

Bind Over: To hold a person for trial on bond (bail) or in jail. If the judicial official conducting a hearing finds probable cause to believe the accused committed a crime, the official will bind over the accused, normally by setting bail for the accused’s appearance at trial.

Binder:   A report issued by a title insurance company that details the condition of a home’s title. and provides guidelines for a title insurance policy.

Binding Authority: Law that controls the outcome of a case. For example, a decision on the same point of law by a higher court in the same state must be followed by a lower court in that state. See precedent.

Biological parent: A parent by blood.

Birth injury: A physical injury suffered by a baby during delivery. Birth injuries may be related to pre-existing maternal or fetal health problems, or related to negligence by a health care professional such as a doctor or another member of the professional medical staff. These injuries may cause permanent disabilities or even death.

Biweekly mortgage:   A mortgage that requires payments every two weeks and helps repay the loan over a shorter term.

Blanket insurance policy:   A policy that covers more than one person or piece of property.

Blanket mortgage:   A mortgage that covers more than one property owned by the same borrower.

Blighted area:   A neighborhood that has deteriorated.

Blind nailing:   Nails driven into a wall and concealed with putty.

Blue sky laws:   Regulations on the sale of securities to prevent consumers from investing in fraudulent or high-risk companies without being informed of the risks.


Blue-ribbon condition:   A house maintained close to its original condition. Also called mint condition.

Board foot:   Measurement of lumber that is the equivalent of 144 cubic inches.

Board of Equalization:   A state board charged with ensuring that local property taxes are assessed in a uniform manner.

Board-and-batten siding:   Siding is composed of 8- to 12-inch wide wooden boards nailed vertically to create a barn-like exterior.

Boilerplate:   Form language used in deeds, mortgages and other documents. Details can be added by individual parties.

Bona fide:   A legal term that refers to actions or persons that are honest and in good faith.

Bond:   An agreement that insures one party against loss by acts or defaults of another party.

Book value:   The value of a property as a capital asset based on its cost plus any additions, minus depreciation.

Booking: The process of photographing, fingerprinting, and recording identifying data of a suspect. This process follows the arrest.

Boring test:  An analysis of soil in which holes are bored into the ground and samples are removed.

Borough:  A section of a city that has authority over local matters.

Borrow pit:   The hole at a site that has been excavated.

Borrow   Sand:  gravel or other material used for grading.

Boulevard:   A street lined with trees or constructed with a landscaped median.

Boundary:   The dividing line between two adjacent properties.

Braced framing:   A construction method in two-story homes in which the frame is reinforced with posts and braces.

Brain Damage: During pregnancy or birth, brain damage to a child may cause cerebral palsy. The following problems may result in brain damage: Rh incompatibility, a lack of oxygen to the baby, a mother’s urinary tract infection, bleeding within the infant’s brain, or poisoning due to the mother’s use of alcohol and drugs.

Breach of contract:   The failure to perform provisions of a contractwithout a legal excuse.

Breach of Contract: Failure:  without legal excuse, to perform a duty required under a contract.

Breach of covenant:   The failure to obey a legal agreement.

Breach of warranty:   A seller’s inability to pass clear title to a buyer.

Break-even point:   The point in which the owner’s rental income matches expenses and debt.

Breast height:   The height at which the diameter of a tree is measured: four feet, six inches above the ground.

Breezeway:   A roofed passageway with open sides.

Brick   Building material made from clay molded into oblong blocks and fired in a kiln.

Bridge loan:   A short-term loan for borrowers who need more time to find permanent financing.

Brief: Written document, usually prepared by an attorney, submitted to the court about a case, containing summaries of the facts of the case, relevant laws, and an argument showing how the laws support that party’s position.

Real Estate Broker:   A person licensed by the state to deal in real estate.

Brokerage:   The act of bringing together two or more parties in exchange for a fee or commission.

Broom clean:   The ideal condition of a building when it is turned over to an owner or tenant.

Brownstone:   A vintage row house constructed of red sandstone.

Buffer strip:   A parcel of land that separates two or more properties.

Builder upgrades:   Extra house features or better finishing materials that a builder offers.

Building and loan association:   An organization that raises money to helps its members purchase real estate or construct a building.

Building code:   A comprehensive set of laws that controls the construction or remodeling of a home or other structure.

Building inspector:   A city or county employee who enforces the building code and ensures that work is correctly performed.

Building line or setback:   Guidelines that limit how close an owner can build to the street or an adjacent property.

Building moratorium:  A halt on home construction to slow the rate of development.

Building paper:  A thick, water-resistant paper that serves as insulation.

Building permit:   A permit issued by a local government agency that allows the construction of home or renovation of a house.

Building restrictions:   Regulations that limit the manner in which property can be used.

Built-ins:   Appliances or other items that are framed into a home or permanently attached.

Bulkhead:   A retaining wall designed to hold back water from the ocean or another body of water.

Bundle of rights:   The various interests or rights an owner has in a property.

Bungalow:  A small one-story house or cottage.

Burden Of Proof: The duty of a moving party to establish an allegation or principal issue in a civil or criminal complaint, generally either by the greater weight of the evidence, or beyond a reasonable doubt.

Butterfly roof:   A roof formed by two gables that dip in the middle to resemble a butterfly’s wings.

Buy-down mortgage:   A home loan in which the lender receives a premium as an inducement to reduce the interest rate during the early years of the mortgage.

Buyer broker:  A real estate broker who exclusively represents the buyer’s interests in a transaction and whose commission is paid by the buyer rather than the seller.

Buyer’s market:   A slow real estate market in which buyers have the advantage.

Buyer’s remorse:   An emotion felt by first-time homebuyers after signing a sales contract or closing the purchase of a house.

Bylaws:   The rules and regulations that a homeowners association or corporation adopts to govern activities.

Bystander: In products liability law, a person who neither buys nor uses a product, but who nevertheless is injured by the product and may have a cause of action.