The web site of the Superior Court Clerks Cooperative Authority provides a glossary of legal terms.These definitions are provided for your convenience and should not be considered legal advice.

Many, but not all, of these terms are used in family law cases. The Superior Court has exclusive jurisdiction of divorce and most other family law cases in Georgia, so these terms may be helpful to family law litigants.

Abstract of Title
A historical summary of all of the recorded instruments and proceedings that affect the title of property.

Acceptance
The act of agreeing to accept an offer.

Acknowledgement
A declaration by a person who has signed a document that such signature is a Voluntary act, made before a duly authorized person.

Adverse Possession
A means of acquiring title to real estate where an occupant has been in actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and continuous occupancy of property for the period required by state law.

Appraisal
An opinion or estimate of the value of the property.

Assignment
The method by which a right or contract is transferred from one person to another.

Assumption
Process whereby a buyer of real property agrees to assume responsibility for payments on an existing mortgage on the property.

Attachment
Legal seizure of property to force payment of a debt.


Bargain & Sale Deed
One in which the grantor implies to have or have had an interest in the property offers no warranties of title to the grantee. This type of deed is typically used in many states to transfer title.

Bequest
The personal property given by the terms of a will.

Broker
A state-licensed agent who, for a fee, acts for property owners in real estate transactions, within the scope of state law.


Capital Gains
Gain on the sale of a capital asset.

Citation
Legal shorthand for referring to cases, statutes, regulations and ordinances.

Commitment
An agreement in advance to loan a certain sum of money.

Consideration
Anything of value given to induce entering into a contract; it may be money, personal services, a product, etc.

Contract for Deed
A real estate installment selling arrangement whereby the buyer may use, occupy, and enjoy land, but no deed is given by the seller so no title passes until all or a specified part of the sale price has been paid.

Cooperative
A type of corporate ownership of real property whereby stockholders of the corporation are entitled to use a certain dwelling unit or other units of space. Special income tax laws allow the tenant stockholders to deduct interest and property taxes paid by the corporation.

Co-ownership
Label given to ownership of property by more than one person.

Corporation
A legal entity properly registered with the secretary of state can have limited liability, perpetual life, freely transferable shares, and centralized management.

Counterclaim
Claim made by the defendant against the plaintiff in a lawsuit.

Covenant
Promise written into a deed and other instruments agreeing to performance or nonperformance of certain acts, or requiring or preventing certain uses of the property.


Debtor
One who has the obligation of paying a debt.

Declaration of Condominium
Master Deed for condominium project; the document recorded to reflect the units involved on the real property.

Deed
A written document, properly signed and delivered, that conveys title to real property.

Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure
The act of giving property back to a lender with foreclosure.

Deed of Trust
An instrument used in lieu of a mortgage. Legal title to the property is vested in one or more trustees to secure the repayment of the loan.

Devise
A gift of real estate by will or last testament.

Dower
Under common law, the legal right of a wife or child to part of a deceased husband’s or father’s property.

Due Process
Constitutional protection requiring full adjudication of issues and rights before property may be taken.


Easement
The right, privilege, or interest that one party has in the land of another.

Eminent Domain
The right of the government or a public utility to acquire property for necessary public use by condemnation; the owner must be fairly compensated.

Escheat
The reversion of property to the state in the event that the owner dies with leaving a will and has no legal heirs.

Escrow
An agreement between 2 or more parties providing that certain instruments or property be placed with a third party for safekeeping, pending the fulfillment or performance of a specified act or condition.

Executor
A person named in a will to carry out its provisions for the disposition of the estate.

Executory interest
Future interest that is not a remainder and not an interest in the grantor.


Fee
Term to refer to an inheritable interest in land.

Fee simple or Fee simple absolute
Absolute ownership of real property; owner is entitled to the entire property with unconditional power of disposition during the owner’s life or, and upon his death the property descends to the owner.

Fee simple defeasible
A type of property ownership in which the grant of title or duration of ownership is dependent on a specified condition.

Fee simple subject to a condition subsequent
Full title restricted in its passage to direct descendents of the owner.

Fiduciary
One who acts, in a financial role, in the best interests of others.

Financing Statement
One that shows income and expenses for an accounting period, or assets, liabilities, and equity as of a point in time.

Fixtures
Personal property improvements or attached to the land so as to become part of the real estate.

Foreclosure
A termination of the equity of redemption of a mortgagor or the grantee in the property covered by the mortgage.

Forfeiture
Loss of money or anything else of value because of failure to perform under contract.

Freehold
An interest in real estate without a predetermined time span.


Gift
A voluntary transfer of property made without consideration, that is, for which no value is received in return.

Grantee
The party to whom the title to real property is conveyed; the buyer.

Grantor
Anyone who gives a deed.

Grantor- Grantee Index
A reference kept with public records that cross-indexes grantors and grantees with one another and the properties they relate to.


Hazardous Substance Response Trust Fund
Fund created under federal environmental laws; known as the Superfund for use in clean-up of toxic waste.

Heirs
One who inherits property.

Homestead
Status provided to a home owner’s principal residence by some state statutes; protects home against judgments up to specified amounts.


Injunction
An order issued under the seal of a court to restrain one or more parties to a legal proceeding, from performing an act deemed inequitable to another party or parties in the proceeding.

Installment Land Contract
A real estate selling arrangement whereby the buyer may use, occupy, and enjoy land, but no deed is given by the seller (so no title passes) until all or a specified part of the sale price has been paid.

Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act (ILSFDA)
Federal law regulating the sale of property across state lines; requires advance filing of sales of minerals, mandatory disclosure of certain information, and prohibitions on promises about the land’s future development.

Intestate
A person who dies leaving no will or leaving one that is defective.

Intestate succession
Statutory method for distributing the property of those who die without a will (intestate).

Involuntary lien
A lien imposed against property without consent of the owner.


Joint tenancy
Ownership of realty by 2 or more persons, each of whom has an undivided interest with the right of survivorship.


Lease
A contract in which, for a payment called rent, the one entitled to the possession of real property transfers those rights to another for a specified period of time.

Lease-Purchase
A lease that give the lessee the right to purchase the property at an agreed-upon price under certain conditions.

Legacy
Gift of money by will.

License
Revocable right to enter another’s property.

Lien
A charge against property making it security for the payment of a debt, judgment, mortgage, or taxes.

Life Estate
A freehold interest (in real property) that expires upon the death of the owner or some other specified person.

Life Tenants
One who is allowed to use property for life or the lifetime of another designated person.

Limited Partnership
One in which there is at least one partner who is passive and limits liability to the amount invested and at least one partner whose liability extends beyond monetary investment.

Lis pendens
“Suit pending.” Recorded notice of the filing of a suit, the outcome of which may affect title to a certain land.


Marketable Title
A title so free from defect that a court will enforce the title’s acceptance by a purchaser.

Master Deed
Used by a condominium developer or converter for recording a condominium development. It divides a single property into individually owned units, includes restrictions on their use and provides for ownership of common area.

Master Plan
A document that describes, in narrative and with maps, an overall development concept. The master plan is used to coordinate the proparation of more detailed plans or may be a collection of detailed plans. The plan may be prepared by a local government to guide private and public development or by a developer on a specific project.

Mechanic’s liens
A lien given by law upon a building or other improvement upon land, and upon the land, and upon the land itself, as security for the payment for labor done and materials furnished for improvements.

Metes and bounds
A land description method that details all the boundary lines of land, together with their terminal points and angles.

Mortgage
A written instrument that creates a lien upon real estate as security for the payment of specified debt.

Mortgagee
Lender, or party who holds the mortgage lien.

Mortgagor
Borrower, or party occupying land that is mortgaged.

Mutual will
Wills of parties that are reciprocal in their distribution; usually based on a contract to make a will; generally enforceable.


Negative Easement
An easement that prohibits a property owner from doing something that affects the property of another.

Nonconforming use
A use that violates zoning regulations or codes but is allowed to continue because it began before the zoning restriction was enacted.

Nonfreehold estates
Land interests that are limited and certain in their duration.

Notice statute
Form of recording statute that gives later bona fide purchasers priority in the case of multiple purchases for the previous purchaser’s failure to give notice by recording their transactions.


Offer
An expression of willingness to purchase a property at a specified price.

Open listing
A listing given to any number of brokers with out liability to compensate any except the one who first secures a buyer who is ready, willing, and able to meet the terms of the listing or secures the seller’s acceptance of another offer.

Option
The right to purchase or lease a property upon specified terms within a specified period.

Ordinances
Municipal rules governing the use of land.


Plat map
A public record containing maps of land, showing the division of the land into streets, blocks, and lots and indicating the measurements of the individual parcels.

Premises
Land and tenements; an estate; the subject matter of a conveyance.

Prepayment penalty
Fees paid by borrowers for the privilege of retiring a loan early.

Prescription
Acquiring rights through adverse possession.

Probate
To establish the validity of the will of a deceased person.

Promissory note
A promise to pay a specified sum to a specified person under specified terms.

Purchase money mortgage
A mortgage given by a grantee to a grantor in part payment of the purchase price of real estate.


Quasi-easement
A right-of-way as it existed when there was unity of ownership in a parcel of land.

Quiet title action
A suit in court to remove a defect, cloud on the title, or suspicion regarding legal rights of an owner to a certain parcel of real property.

Quit Claim deed
A deed that conveys only the grantor’s rights or interest in real estate, without stating the nature of the rights and with no warranties of ownership. Often used to remove a possible cloud on the title.


REIT
Real estate investment trust-a real estate mutual fund, allowed by income tax laws to avoid the corporate income tax. It sells shares of ownership and must invest in real estate or mortgages.

RESPA
A law that states how mortgage lenders must treat those who apply for federally related real estate loans on property with 1-4 dwelling units. Intended to provide borrowers with more knowledge when they comparison shop for mortgage money.

Recording
The act of entering in a book of public records instruments affecting the title to real property. Recording in this manner gives notice to the world of facts recorded.

Refinancing
To replace an old loan(s) with a new loan (s).

Regulation Z
A federal regulation requiring creditors to provide full disclosure of the terms of a loan. Compliance is compulsory for anyone who arranges credit for more that 5 sales of residential real estate in a year.

Recession
Right to treat a contract as if it never existed; rescind contract rights; generally appropriate in cases of fraud and misrepresentation.

Reversion
The right of a lessor to possess leased property upon the termination of a lease.

Right of Redemption
The right of an owner to redeem property securing a loan that has been accelerated prior to foreclosure.


Secured Party
On a UCC financing statement, refers to the party to whom a security interest is granted.

Security deposit
A cash payment required by a landlord, to be held during the term of a lease to offset damages incurred due to actions of the tenant. Such damages may include physical damage to the property, theft of property, failure to pay back rent and breaking the lease.

Self-proving will
A will that is acknowledged or notarized and thereby enjoys the presumption of validity.

Servient estate or tenement
Land through which an easement runs or which is subject to the easement.

Sheriff’s Deed
Form of title given to a buyer at a mortgage foreclosures sale; carries no warranties.

Soldier’s and Sailor’s Civil Relief Act
A federal law that provided time limitations on foreclosures involving those in active military service.

Special Waranty Deed
A deed in which the grantor limits the title warranty given to the grantee to anyone claiming by, from, through, or under him, the grantor.

Specific performance
A legal action in which the court requires a party to a contract to perform the terms of the contract when he has refused to fulfill his obligations.

Statute of Frauds
A state law that provides that certain contracts must be in writing in order to be enforceable.

Subdivision
A tract of land divided into lots suitable for homebuilding purposes.

Sublease
A lease from a lessee to another lessee.

Subordinate mortgage
Mortgage with a lesser priority than a preexisting mortgage.

Surety
One who guarantees the performance of another.


Taking
Term used to describe the government action of using private property for public purposes.

Tax Deed
A type of instrument given to a grantee by a government that had claimed the property for unpaid taxes.

Tax lien
A debt attached against property for failing to pay taxes.

Tax Sale
The sale of property after a period of nonpayment of taxes.

Tenancy by the entirety
An estate that exists only between husband and wife with equal right of possession and enjoyment during their joint lives and with the right of survivorship—i.e. when one dies, the property goes to the surviving tenant.

Tenancy in common
An ownership of realty by 2 or more persons, each of whom has an undivided interest, without the right of survivorship.

Testamentary
Disposition by will.

Time-sharing properties
Form of property ownership under which a property is held by a number of people, each with the right of possession for a specified time interval.

Title abstract
A historical summary of all of the recorded instruments and proceedings that affect the title of property.

Title insurance
An insurance policy that protects the holder from loss sustained by defects in the title.

Title Theory
Theory of mortgage law that puts title in the mortgagee and possession in the mortgagor.

Trustee
Third party responsible for handling the property of another; as in deed of trust or real estate investment trust.


UCC (Uniform Commercial Code)
A group of laws to standardize the state laws that are applicable to commercial transactions.

Usury
Charging a rate of interest greater than that permitted by state law.


Variances
Permission granted by a zoning authority to a property owner to allow for a specified violation of the zoning requirements. Variances are generally granted when compliance is impossible without rendering the property virtually unusable.

Vested remainder
A remainder that will automatically take effect when the life estate ends.

Voluntary Lien
A debt that the property owner agrees to have recorded. Typically a mortgage.


Warranty Deed
One that contains a covenant that the grantor will protect the grantee against any and all claims.

Warranty of habitability
An implied assurance given by a landlord that an apartment offered for rent is free from safety and health hazards.

Will
The disposition of one’s property, to take effect after one’s death.

Wrap-around-mortgage
A loan arrangement in which an existing loan is retained and an additional loan, larger than the existing loan, is made.


Zoning
A legal mechanism for local governments to regulate the use of privately owned real property by specific application of police power to prevent conflicting land uses and promote orderly development.