54 legal terms everyone needs to know

Have you ever looked at a legal document and thought this is all Greek to me? Well, the good news is that you are not alone. The law has an exact language that is misunderstood or misused by most people. The best course of action is to naturally clarify with your lawyer any terminology you are not au fait with to make sure you thoroughly understand the legal situation rather than assuming or educated guess and ending up with the complete wrong end of the stick.


So, if you don’t know the difference between a Testator or Testatrix, we have put together 54 of the more common legal terms and phrases to get you started. 


Whereas: The background or situation to date.


Inter alia: Amongst other things.


Seriatim: Point by point


Thus: It flows


Caveat: A block or qualification 


Mortgage:  Although commonly treated as referring to the loan we take out from the Bank, it is in reality only the security put in place to secure that loan.


Caveat emptor: Buyer beware


Agreement to Lease: The agreement you enter into agreeing that you will enter into a Lease.


Incorporeal: Something you can’t put your hands on. 

Joint tenants: An undivided ownership and in respect of land, that will lead to Survivorship.


Survivorship: Is usually used in the context of two or more owners, who own property as Joint Tenants, and means that upon the death of one, the relevant property automatically transfers to the survivor.


Tenants in common: A distinct ownership of a portion of the whole.


Intestate: Dying without a Will, in which case the law will set out who gets what under your Estate.


The Settlor under a Trust: Is the person responsible for bringing the Trust into being, it is also the person back to whom everything flows should the Trust fail.


Trustees under a Trust: Are the persons responsible for holding the assets in their names.


Beneficiaries of a Trust: Are the individuals entitled to take the benefit of the Trust assets.


Discretionary Beneficiaries: Are potential beneficiaries under the Trust but whom don’t have any rights (apart from to be considered) unless until such time as the Trustees exercise their discretion in their favour.


Appointor under a Trust: Is the person able to exercise special powers to appoint and remove Trustees and/or beneficiaries and to approve certain other actions by the Trustees.


Trustees and Executors under your Will: Are those responsible for stepping in, upon your death, taking over and gathering in all your Estate and then distributing those assets out to the beneficiaries per your Will.


Testator: Is a male Will maker.


Testatrix: is a female Will maker.


Residuary Beneficiary: is the person entitled to take the benefit of everything that’s left in an Estate after any specific items have been disposed of.


Life Interest Holder: is the person entitled to the use of assets or property for the duration of their life.


Lessor under a Lease: Is the landlord


Lessee under a Lease: Is the tenant.


Bona Vacantia: Its forfeit to the Crown (such as any assets that are still held by a company that gets struck off).


Incongruous: Out of keeping. 


Inchoate: Undeveloped.


Inconsonant: Non-harmonious.


Bona fide: Genuinely


Corpus: The capital of a fund. 


Ejusdem generis: Of the same kind.


Ex gratia: Voluntarily


Ex parte: An application in a Judicial Hearing made by one party in the absence of the other.


Infra: Below


Re: In the matter of


In situ: In place


In specie: In it’s actual state (ie not converted to cash)


Inter se: Amongst themselves


Inter vivos: During a lifetime


In toto: Entirely 


Mutatis mutandis: In the same manner but with appropriate changes depending on the context.


Ultra vires: Beyond the powers


Sine qua non: An indispensable condition


Passim: Here and there


Per dia: Daily


Per se: Taken alone


Prima facie: At first sight


Pro rata: In proportion


Quid pro quo: Consideration


Sic: Thus 


Simpliciter: Without addition


Non sequitur: It does not follow


Escrow: Delivered to a third party but not usable pending satisfaction of a condition.



Warning the content here of is for general information purposes only and actual meaning may depend on context and / or be qualified and/or defined to mean something else. The above is not legal advice and you should always get specific legal advice addressing the specific facts of any and every situation.



For confidential, jargon-free legal advice in Christchurch get in touch with one of our friendly, experienced lawyers.

legal terms you need to know

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