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Understanding Basic Legal Terms

When a person has a legal problem, it is usually best for them to work with an attorney in order to resolve the problem. Getting legal representation can also help you gain better knowledge of common legal terms, which can help you better understand your case.

Here are some general legal terms that are often used in common cases:

Arbitration: In arbitration, a third party gets involved in making a legal decision. It the decision is binding, it is not eligible for appeal. Whenever a dispute involves less than $50,000 an attempt at arbitration is required. It may also by non-binding. In these cases the case can be reviewed again to try and get a different result. An arbitrator is an attorney will be selected to hear arguments in a legal dispute and render a decision without a trial.

Beneficiary: A person who has a future vested interest in the belongings of another person. Usually this interest comes to fruition upon a person’s death. A beneficiary may receive the intended award in compliance with a trust, a will, or an account with a beneficiary designation.

Conciliation Services: Services used in family court that offer mediation, marriage counseling, and custody evaluation to litigants involved in a family related dispute.

Community Debts vs. Separate Debts: Divorce cases make a point to distinguish between these. Community debts are limited to debts than were incurred during a marriage, especially joint accounts. Separate debts are debts that individuals owed before the marriage. Some debts obtained in one spouse’s name after a marriage are sometimes considered separate as well.

Dismissal with or without prejudice: A dismissal is when a judge cancels a trial before its natural conclusion. When the dismissal is with prejudice, the matter cannot legally be revisited. A dismissal without prejudice allows the person to make the same claim again, possible with stronger evidence.

Estate: The collection of property of a decedent (deceased person) which are usually distributed to that person’s beneficiaries upon their death. It includes anything that had been solely owned by the decedent, not property that was jointly owned by a spouse.

Garnishment: A retraction of a portion of a person’s wages at the request of a creditor that enforces a court ordered payment.

Hearing: A procedure where evidence and witnesses are heard by a judge without a jury in order to receive a decision in a less formal setting than a trial.

Incapacitated Person: A person who has a physical or mental illness or disability that disqualifies them from participating in decisions involving their life. They either lack understanding a situation or the ability to properly communicate their wishes effectively.

Judgment: A formal decision by the court that confirms the rights of one party and the responsibility of another to fulfill those rights through payment or other action.

Litigation: Using the court system to resolve a legal matter including a domestic conflict.

Petition: A legal form used to raise an issue to the court or a written request for a court order after all parties in the conflict have been notified or the issue.

Punitive Damages: Damages in a case that exceed the literal expenses incurred by the plaintiff in order to compensate them and punish a defendant for malicious or wrongful acts.

Settlement: The money or other valuables awarded in relation to a decedent’s estate including the full administration, distribution and closing of a probate case. A legal compromise between disputing parties and/or their attorneys presented to the court orally or in writing.

Summons: A written notice that is served to a person who is required to appear in court during a specific time.

Tort: A wrong committed  by one person against another that is being address through civil, rather than criminal court. It may also refer to a breach in fulfilling a legal duty that one person has toward another.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, there are many other legal terms for which you may need definitions. Some of the more complicated legal terms derive from Latin, which of course, make them even more difficult to understand. But no matter what your reason, whether it’s for clarification of legal terms or representation in legal matters, our team at May, Potenza, Baran & Gillespie is here to help you.

Contact us at MPBG for more information.

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