Gag order

n. a judge’s order prohibiting the attorneys and the parties to a pending lawsuit or criminal prosecution from talking to the media or the public about the case. The supposed intent is to prevent prejudice due to pre-trial publicity which would influence potential jurors. A gag order has the secondary purpose of preventing the lawyers from trying the case in the press and on television, and thus creating a public mood (which could get ugly) in favor of one party or the other. Based on the “freedom of the press” provision of the First Amendment, the court cannot constitutionally restrict the media from printing or broadcasting information about the case, so the only way is to put a gag on the participants under the court’s control. In Canada, however, the media can be restricted, as in a famous case in which American newspapers were smuggled across the border to report on a particularly lurid sex-murder case in which a second accused person was yet to be tried. A gag order can also be made by an executive agency such as when President George Bush issued a gag order which forbade federally funded health clinics from giving out information about abortions, a gag order which President Bill Clinton rescinded on his first day in office, January 22, 1993.

Garnish

v. to obtain a court order directing a party holding funds (such as a bank) or about to pay wages (such as an employer) to an alleged debtor to set that money aside until the court determines (decides) how much the debtor owes to the creditor. Garnishing funds is also a warning to the party holding the funds (garnishee) not to pay them, and to inform the court as to how much money is being held. If the garnishee (such as a bank or employer) should mistakenly give the money to the account owner or employee, the garnishee will be liable to pay the creditor what he/she/it has coming. Garnishing wages is a typical means used to collect late child support and alimony payments or money judgments. Often the order will be to pay installment payments to the sheriff until the debt is collected. Then the sheriff pays the whole amount or payments to the person to whom the money is owed.

Garnishee

n. a person or entity, quite often a bank or employer, which receives a court order not to release funds held for or owed to a customer or employee, pending further order of the court.

Garnishment

A court-ordered process that takes property from a person to satisfy a debt. For example, a person who owes money to a creditor may have her wages garnished if she loses a lawsuit filed by the creditor. Up to 25% of a person’s wages can be deducted. The seizing of a person’s property, credit or salary, on the basis of a law which allows it, and for the purposes of paying off a debt.

Gender bias

n. unequal treatment in employment opportunity (such as promotion, pay, benefits and privileges), and expectations due to attitudes based on the sex of an employee or group of employees. Gender bias can be a legitimate basis for a lawsuit under anti-discrimination statutes.

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

A comprehensive free-trade treaty signed in 1947 by 117 nations, including almost every developed country. The goal of GATT has been to promote global economic growth by encouraging and regulating world trade. Among other things, member countries are required to treat all other member countries equally in the application of import and export tariffs, offer basic copyright protection to authors from member countries, consult with each other about trade matters and attempt to resolve differences in a peaceful manner. GATT created an international regulatory body known as the World Trade Organization (WTO) to enforce compliance with the agreement.

General appearance

n. an attorney’s representation of a client in court for all purposes connected with a pending lawsuit or prosecution. After “appearing” in court, the attorney is then responsible for all future appearances in court unless officially relieved by court order or substitution of another attorney. A lawyer may be leery of making a general appearance unless all details of representation (such as the amount and payment of his/her fees) have been worked out with the client. This is distinguished from a special appearance, which is only for a particular purpose or court session and does not make the attorney responsible for future conduct of the case.

General counsel

n. the chief attorney for a corporation, who is paid usually full time for legal services. Attorneys who work only for one business are “house counsel.”

General damages

n. monetary recovery (money won) in a lawsuit for injuries suffered (such as pain, suffering, inability to perform certain functions) or breach of contract for which there is no exact dollar value which can be calculated. They are distinguished from special damages, which are for specific costs, and from punitive (exemplary) damages for punishment and to set an example when malice, intent or gross negligence was a factor.

General denial

n. a statement in an answer to a lawsuit or claim by a defendant in a lawsuit, in which the defendant denies everything alleged in the complaint without specifically denying any allegation. It reads: “Defendant denies each and every allegation contained in the complaint on file herein,” or similar inclusive language.

General partner

A person who joins with at least one other to own and operate a business for profit — and who (unlike a corporation’s owners), is personally liable for all the business’s debts and obligations. A general partner’s actions can legally bind the entire business. See also partnership, limited partnership.

General plan

n. a plan of a city, county or area which establishes zones for different types of development, uses, traffic patterns and future development.

Generation skipping

adj., adv. referring to gifts made through trusts by a grandparent to a grandchild, skipping one’s child (the grandchild’s parent). Originally intended to avoid or defer federal gift or estate taxes if paid through a “generation skipping trust,” it is now subject to a generation skipping tax, and if made directly without a trust, the gift is as taxable as any large gift. In other words, although generation skipping no longer works to avoid taxes, a grandparent can still give or leave gifts under $10,000 a year to a grandchild without a gift tax.

Generation-skipping transfer tax

A federal tax imposed on money placed in a generation-skipping trust. Currently, there is a $1 million exemption to the GSTT; that is, each person may leave $1 million in a generation-skipping trust free of this tax. The GSST is imposed when the middle-generation beneficiaries die and the property is transferred to the third-generation beneficiaries. Every dollar over $1 million is subject to the highest existing estate tax rate–currently 55%–at the time the GSTT tax is applied.

Generation-skipping trust

A trust designed to save on estate tax. The trust principal is preserved for the trust maker’s grandchildren, with his or her children receiving only income from the trust. Because the children (the middle generation) never legally own the property, it isn’t subject to estate tax at their death

Generic mark

In trademark law, a word or symbol commonly used to describe an entire type of product or service rather than to distinguish one product or service from another. An example is “raisin bran,” used by several manufacturers of breakfast cereals to describe their products. Generic marks never receive protection because they don’t serve the basic function of marks, which is to distinguish goods and services in the marketplace.

Genericide

Loss of trademark protection that occurs when a specific brand name becomes identified with the entire type of product or service. For example, Xerox was in danger of losing the trademark on its name when “to Xerox” something was equivalent to copying it.

Gift

n. the voluntary transfer of property (including money) to another person completely free of payment or strings while both the giver and the recipient are still alive. Large gifts are subject to the federal gift tax, and in some states, to a state gift tax.

Gift in contemplation of death

n. called a gift “causa mortis”, a gift of personal property (not real estate) by a person expecting to die soon due to ill health or age. Federal tax law will recognize this reason for a gift if the giver dies within three years of the gift. Treating the gift as made in contemplation of death has the benefit of including the gift in the value of the estate, rather than making the gift subject to a separate federal gift tax charged the giver. If the giver gets over an apparently mortal illness, the gift is treated like any other gift for tax purposes.

Gift taxes

Federal taxes assessed on any gift, or combination of gifts, from one person to another that exceeds $12,000 in one year. Several kinds of gifts are exempt form this tax: gifts to tax-exempt charities, gifts to your spouse (limited to $120,000 annually if the recipient isn’t a U.S. citizen) and gifts made for tuition or medical bills. In addition to the  annual gift tax exclusion, there is a $1 million cumulative tax exemption for gifts. In other words, you can give away a total of $1 million during your lifetime — over and above the gifts you give using the annual exclusion — without paying gift taxes.

Golden rule argument

During a jury trial, an attempt to persuade the jurors to put themselves in the place of the victim or the injured person and deliver the verdict that they would wish to receive if they were in that person’s position. For example, if the plaintiff in a personal injury case has suffered severe scarring, the plaintiff’s lawyer might ask the jury to come back with the verdict they themselves would want to receive had they been disfigured in such a manner. As a rule, judges frown upon this type of argument, because jurors are supposed to consider the facts of a case in an objective manner.

Good cause

n. a legally sufficient reason for a ruling or other action by a judge. The language is commonly: “There being good cause shown, the court orders….”

Good faith

n. honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person or to fulfill a promise to act, even when some legal technicality is not fulfilled. The term is applied to all kinds of transactions.

Good Samaritan rule

n. from a Biblical story, if a volunteer comes to the aid of an injured or ill person who is a stranger, the person giving the aid owes the stranger a duty of being reasonably careful. In some circumstances negligence could result in a claim of negligent care if the injuries or illness were made worse by the volunteer’s negligence.

Good title

n. ownership of real property which is totally free of claims against it and therefore can be sold, transferred or put up as security (placing a mortgage or deed of trust on the property).

Goods

n. items held for sale in the regular course of business, as in a retail store.

Goodwill

n. the benefit of a business having a good reputation under its name and regular patronage. Goodwill is not tangible like equipment, right to lease the premises or inventory of goods. It becomes important when a business is sold, since there can be an allocation in the sales price for the value of the goodwill, which is always a subjective estimate. Included in goodwill upon sale may be the right to do business without competition by the seller in the area and/or for a specified period of time. Sellers like the allocation to goodwill to be high since it is not subject to capital gains tax, while buyers prefer it to be low, because it cannot be depreciated for tax purposes like tangible assets. Goodwill also may be overestimated by a proud seller and believed by an unknowing buyer.

Governmental immunity

n. the doctrine from English common law that no governmental body can be sued unless it gives permission. This protection resulted in terrible injustices, since public hospitals, government drivers and other employees could be negligent with impunity (free) from judgment. The Federal Tort Claims Act and state waivers of immunity (with specific claims systems) have negated this rule, which stemmed from the days when kings set prerogatives.

Grace period

A period of time during which you are not required to make payments on a debt. For example, most credit cards give you a grace period of 20-30 days before you have to pay interest on the amount of your purchases. Cash advances, however, usually have no grace period; interest begins to accumulate from the date of the withdrawal, even if you pay your bills on time. Also, some student loans give you a grace period after graduating or dropping out of school. During this time, you are not required to make payments on your loan.

Gran Jury

In criminal cases, a group that decides whether there is enough evidence to justify an indictment (formal charges) and a trial. A grand jury indictment is the first step, after arrest, in any formal prosecution of a felony.

Grand larceny

n. the crime of theft of another’s property (including money) over a certain value (for example, $500), as distinguished from petty (or petit) larceny in which the value is below the grand larceny limit. Some states only recognize the crime of larceny, but draw the line between a felony (punishable by state prison time) and a misdemeanor (local jail and/or fine) based on the value of the loot.

Grandfather clause

A provision in a new law that limits its application to people who are new to the system; people already in the system are exempt from the new regulation. For example, when Washington, D.C. raised its drinking age from 18 to 21, people between those ages, who could drink under the old law, were allowed to retain the right to legally consume alcohol under a grandfather clause.

Grandfathered in

adj. refers to continued allowed use of property as it was when restrictions or zoning ordinances were adopted.

Grant

v. to transfer real property from a title holder (grantor) or holders to another (grantee) with or without payment. However, there is an important difference between the types of deeds used. A grant deed warrants (guarantees) that the grantor (seller) has full right and title to the property, while a quitclaim deed only grants whatever the grantor owns (which may be nothing) and guarantees nothing.

Grant deed

A deed containing an implied promise that the person transfering the property actually owns the title and that it is not encumbered in any way, except as described in the deed. This is the most commonly used type of deed.

Grantee

n. the party who receives title to real property (buyer, recipient, donee) from the seller (grantor) by a document called a grant deed or quitclaim deed.

Grantor

Someone who creates a trust. Also called a trustor or settlor.

Grantor retained income trust

Irrevocable trusts designed to save on estate tax. There are several kinds; with all of them, you keep income from trust property, or use of that property, for a period of years. When the trust ends, the property goes to the final beneficiaries you’ve named. These trusts are for people who have enough wealth to feel comfortable giving away a substantial hunk of property. They come in three flavors: Grantor-Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), Grantor-Retained Unitrusts (GRUTs) and Grantor-Retained Income Trusts (GRITs).

Grantor-grantee index

n. a set of books and/or computerized lists found in the office of every County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds which lists all recorded transfers of title by deed (as well as liens, mortgages, deeds of trust and other documents affecting title). Each yearly index is usually alphabetized by the last names of grantors (the party transferring title) and grantee (the recipients of title). The listing includes the date of transfer, and cross-references to the book and page or document number where a copy of the document (often on microfilm) was recorded and can be examined. This is a key instrument in tracking a chain of title.

Gratuitous

adj. or adv. voluntary or free.

Gravamen

The essential element of a lawsuit. For example, the gravamen of a lawsuit involving a car accident might be the careless driving of the defendant.

Gross estate

For federal estate tax filing purposes, the total of all property owned at death, without regard to any debts or liens against the property or the costs of probate. Taxes are due only on the value of the property the person actually owned (the net estate) plus the amount of any taxable gifts made during life. In a few states, the gross estate is used when computing attorney fees for probating estates; the lawyer gets a percentage of the gross estate.

Gross income

n. in calculating income tax, the income of an individual or business from all sources before deducting allowable expenses, which will result in net income.

Gross lease

A commercial real estate lease in which the tenant pays a fixed amount of rent per month or year, regardless of the landlord’s operating costs, such as maintenance, taxes and insurance. A gross lease closely resembles the typical residential lease. The tenant may agree to a “gross lease with stops,” meaning that the tenant will pitch in if the landlord’s operating costs rise above a certain level. In real estate lingo, the point when the tenant starts to contribute is called the “stop level,” because that’s where the landlord’s share of the costs stops.

Gross negligence

n. carelessness which is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, and is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, but it is just shy of being intentionally evil. If one has borrowed or contracted to take care of another’s property, then gross negligence is the failure to actively take the care one would of his/her own property. If gross negligence is found by the trier of fact (judge or jury), it can result in the award of punitive damages on top of general and special damages.

Grounds for divorce

Legal reasons for requesting a divorce. All states require a spouse who files for divorce to state the grounds, court and whether requesting a fault divorce or a no-fault divorce.

Group life or group health insurance

A single policy under which individuals in a group–for example, employees–and their dependents are covered.

Guarantee

1) v. to pledge or agree to be responsible for another’s debt or contractual performance if that other person does not pay or perform. Usually, the party receiving the guarantee will first try to collect or obtain performance from the debtor before trying to collect from the one making the guarantee (guarantor). 2) the promise to pay another’s debt or fulfill contract obligations if that party fails to pay or perform. 3) n. occasionally, the person to whom the guarantee is made. 4) a promise to make a product good if it has some defect.

Guaranteed reservation

A hotel or rental car reservation secured by a credit card number. In exchange for your card number, the hotel or rental agency promises to have a room or vehicle for you no matter when you show up. If you have a guaranteed reservation with a hotel, it must provide you with a room, either at that hotel or at another comparable establishment. If you have a guaranteed reservation with a car agency, it must provide you with a vehicle. The downside of a guaranteed reservation is that if you don’t show up and haven’t cancelled your reservation, you will be billed for one night in the room or one day’s use of the vehicle.

Guarantor

A person who makes a legally binding promise to either pay another person’s debt or perform another person’s duty if that person defaults or fails to perform. The guarantor gives a “guaranty,” which is an assurance that the debt or other obligation will be fulfilled.

Guaranty

When used as a verb, to agree to pay another person’s debt or perform another person’s duty, if that person fails to come through. As a noun, the written document in which this assurance is made. For example, if you cosign a loan, you have made a guaranty and will be legally responsible for the debt if the borrower fails to repay the money as promised. The person who makes a guaranty is called the guarantor. Also known as a guarantee or warranty.

Guardian

An adult who has been given the legal right by a court to control and care for a minor or her property. Someone who looks after a child’s property is called a “guardian of the estate.” An adult who has legal authority to make personal decisions for the child, including responsibility for his physical, medical and educational needs, is called a “guardian of the person.” Sometimes just one person will be named to take care of all these tasks. An individual appointed by a court to look after an incapacitated adult may also be known as a guardian, but is more frequently called a conservator.

Guardian ad litem

A person, not necessarily a lawyer, who is appointed by a court to represent and protect the interests of a child or an incapacitated adult during a lawsuit. For example, a guardian ad litem (GAL) may be appointed to represent the interests of a child whose parents are locked in a contentious battle for custody, or to protect a child’s interests in a lawsuit where there are allegations of child abuse. The GAL may conduct interviews and investigations, make reports to the court and participate in court hearings or mediation sessions. Sometimes called court-appointed special advocates (CASAs).

Guardian of the estate

Someone appointed by a court to care for the property of a minor child that is not supervised by an adult under some other legal method, such as a trust. A guardian of the estate may also be called a “property guardian” or “financial guardian.”

Guardianship

A legal relationship created by a court between a guardian and his ward–either a minor child or an incapacitated adult. The guardian has a legal right and duty to care for the ward. This may involve making personal decisions on his or her behalf, managing property or both. Guardianships of incapacitated adults are more typically called conservatorships.

Guest

n. 1) in general, a person paying to stay in a hotel, motel or inn for a short time. 2) a person staying at another’s residence without charge, called a “social guest.” An important distinction is that a non-paying guest is not owed the duty of being provided a safe boarding space, as is a paying customer. Thus if a social guest trips on a slippery rug, he/she has no right to sue for negligence, but a paying guest might. 3) an “automobile” guest is one who is a passenger without paying, as distinguished from a taxi fare, bus rider or one who has paid a friend to drive. However, the so-called “guest statute” may give a non-paying passenger the right to sue. An automobile guest is somewhat (but not entirely) analogous to the “social guest” in a residence.

Guest statute

n. a state law which sets standards of care by the driver of a car to a non-paying passenger. Although state laws vary, the basic concept is that the social passenger can bring suit for negligence against the driver for gross negligence only if the driver could have foreseen that his/her actions or car could put the rider in great peril.

Guilty

adj. having been convicted of a crime or having admitted the commission of a crime by pleading “guilty” (saying you did it). A defendant may also be found guilty by a judge after a plea of “no contest,” or in Latin nolo contendere. The term “guilty” is also sometimes applied to persons against whom a judgment has been found in a lawsuit for a civil wrong, such as negligence or some intentional act like assault or fraud, but that is a confusing misuse of the word since it should only apply to a criminal charge.