Ultimate fact

n. in a trial, a conclusion of fact which is logically deduced from evidence (“evidentiary facts”).

Ultra vires

Latin for “beyond powers.” It refers to conduct by a corporation or its officers that exceeds the powers granted by law.

Ultrahazardous activity

n. an action or process which is so inherently dangerous that the person or entity conducting the activity is “strictly liable” for any injury caused by the activity.

Unclean hands

A legal doctrine that prevents a plaintiff who has acted unethically in relation to a lawsuit from winning the suit or from recovering as much money as she would have if she had behaved honorably.

Unconscionability

A seller’s taking advantage of a buyer due to their unequal bargaining positions, perhaps because of the buyer’s recent trauma, physical infirmity, ignorance, inability to read or inability to understand the language. The unfairness must be so severe that it is shocking to the average person. It usually includes the absence of any meaningful choice on the part of the buyer and contract terms so one-sided that they unreasonably favor the seller. A contract will be terminated if the buyer can prove unconscionability.

Unconstitutional

adj. referring to a statute, governmental conduct, court decision or private contract which violate one or more provisions of the Constitution. Unconstitutional can also refer to violations of a state constitution.

Uncontested divorce

A divorce automatically granted by a court when the spouse who is served with a summons and complaint for divorce fails to file a formal response with the court. Many divorces proceed this way when the spouses have worked everything out and there’s no reason for both to go to court — and pay the court costs.

Undercapitalization

A situation in which a company does not have enough cash available to carry on its business.

Underwrite

v. 1) to agree to pay an obligation which may arise from an insurance policy. 2) to guarantee purchase of all shares of stock or bonds being issued by a corporation, including an agreement to purchase by the underwriter if the public does not buy all the shares or bonds. 3) to guarantee by investment in a business or project.

Underwriter

Another term for an insurer, one who assumes the risk of another’s loss and compensates for the loss under the terms of an insurance policy.

Undisclosed principal

n. a person who uses an agent for his/her negotiations with a third party, often when the agent pretends to be acting for himself/herself. As a result, the third party does not know he/she can look to the real principal in any dispute.

Undivided interest

n. title to real property held by two or more persons without specifying the interests of each party by percentage or description of a portion of the real estate. Such interests are typical between joint tenants, tenants in common and tenants by the entirety.

Undue hardship

The circumstances in which a debtor may discharge a student loan in bankruptcy. For example, a debtor who has no income and little chance of earning enough in the future to pay off the loan may be able to show that repayment would be an undue hardship.

Undue influence

n. the amount of pressure which one uses to force someone to execute a will leaving assets in a particular way, to make a direct gift while alive or to sign a contract. The key element is that the influence was so great that the testator (will writer), donor (gift giver) or party to the contract had lost the ability to exercise his/her judgment and could not refuse to give in to the pressure. Evidence of such dominance of another’s mind may result in invalidation of the will, gift or contract by a court if the will, gift or contract is challenged. Participation in preparation of the will, excluding other relatives being present when the testator and the attorney meet, are all evidence of undue pressure, and an imbalance or change in language which greatly favors the person exercising the influence is a factor in finding undue influence.

Unemployment insurance (UI)

A program run jointly by federal and state governments that provides money benefits for a specified time — usually 26 weeks — after you’ve been laid off from a job. The amount of your unemployment check will be less than your former pay. Also called unemployment compensation, UI covers most employees, provided that they worked at least six months during the year prior to losing the job and earned the minimum amount of money required under the program’s regulations.

Unfair competition

An overarching term describing any commercial activity that tends to confuse or deceive the public about the sale of products or services. It covers such diverse activities as trademark infringement, false advertising and theft of trade secrets. If a court finds that an activity constitutes unfair competition, it will generally prevent that activity from occurring in the future and award money damages to the person or company harmed by the activity.

Unified estate and gift tax

n. in federal estate taxes, the value of the estate plus gifts upon which no gift tax has been paid are combined to determine the assets upon which the tax is calculated. In larger estates an experienced accountant is virtually mandatory to determine the estate tax (if any) and prepare the tax return.

Uniform Commercial Code

n. a set of statutes governing the conduct of business, sales, warranties, negotiable instruments, loans secured by personal property and other commercial matters.

Uniform Resource Locator (URL)

The Internet address of a Web page, file or other online resource. URLs usually contain a domain name and a description of the material sought.

Uniform Transfer-on-Death Security Act

A statute that allows people to name a beneficiary to inherit stocks or bonds without probate. The owner of the securities can register them with a broker using a simple form that names a person to receive the property after the owner’s death.

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act

A statute, adopted by almost all states, that provides a method for transferring property to minors and arranging for an adult to manage it until the child is old enough to receive it.

Unilateral contract

n. an agreement to pay in exchange for performance, if the potential performer chooses to act. A “unilateral” contract is distinguished from a “bilateral” contract, which is an exchange of one promise for another.

Uninsured motorist coverage

The portion of car insurance that compensates you for any injuries resulting from an accident with an uninsured motorist or a hit-and-run driver. Damage to your vehicle in such a situation is compensated by the collision coverage portion of your car insurance.

Unissued stock

n. a corporation’s shares of stock which are authorized by its articles of incorporation but have never been issued (sold) to anyone. They differ from “treasury stock,” which is stock that was issued and then reacquired by the corporation.

Unjust enrichment

A legal doctrine stating that if a person receives money or other property through no effort of his own, at the expense of another, the recipient should return the property to the rightful owner, even if the property was not obtained illegally. Most courts will order that the property be returned if the party who has suffered the loss brings a lawsuit.

Unlawful

adj. referring to any action which is in violation of a statute, federal or state constitution, or established legal precedents.

Unlawful assembly

n. the act of assembling for the purpose of starting a riot or breaching the peace or when such an assembly reasonably could be expected to cause a riot or endanger the public.

Unlawful detainer

n. 1) keeping possession of real property without a right, such as after a lease has expired, after being served with a notice to quit (vacate, leave) for non-payment of rent or other breach of lease, or being a “squatter” on the property. Such possession entitles the owner to file a lawsuit for “unlawful detainer,” asking for possession by court order, unpaid rent and damages. 2) a legal action to evict a tenant or other occupier of real property in possession, without a legal right, to declare a breach of lease, and/or a judgment for repossession, as well as unpaid rent and other damages. Such lawsuits have priority over most legal cases and therefore will be calendared for trial promptly.

Unreasonable search and seizure

n. search of an individual or his/her premises (including an automobile) and/or seizure of evidence found in such a search by a law enforcement officer without a search warrant and without “probable cause” to believe evidence of a crime is present. Such a search and/or seizure is unconstitutional, and evidence obtained thereby may not be introduced in court.

Unsecured debt

A debt that is not tied to any item of property. A creditor doesn’t have the right to grab property to satisfy the debt if you default. The creditor’s only remedy is to sue you and get a judgment.

Use

n. the right to enjoy the benefits of real property or personal property (but primarily used in reference to real property), whether the owner of the right has ownership of title or not. Under English common law “use” of property became extremely important since title to real property could not be conveyed outside a family line due to “restraints on alienation,” so “use” of the property was transferred instead. This is a simplification of the way “uses” were employed, but today it is only of academic interest.

Use tax

A tax imposed by a state to compensate for the sales tax lost when an item is purchased outside of the state, but is used within the state. For example, you buy your car in a state that has no sales tax, but you live across the border in a state that does have a sales tax. When you bring your car home and register it in your state, the state taxing authority will bill you for the sales tax it would have collected had you bought the car within the state.

Usefulness

In patent law, the requirement that an invention have some purpose, or in the case of design patents, be ornamental. The purpose can be solely for amusement or a minor improvement on an existing design — not every invention has to be a groundbreaking feat like the telephone.

Usufruct

The right to use property — or income from property — that is owned by another. From ancient Roman law (and now a part of many civil law systems), usufruct means the rights to the product of another’s property.

Usurious

adj. referring to the interest on a debt which exceeds the maximum interest rate allowed by law.

Usury

n. a rate of interest on a debt which is exorbitant and in excess of the percentage allowed by law. Each state sets its own maximum interest rate. Courts will not enforce payment of interest on a loan if the rate is usurious, so a loan may result in being interest free. Charging usury as a practice is a crime, usually only charged if a person makes a business of usury, sometimes called “loan-sharking.” Banks and other commercial lenders generally are not subject to anti-usury laws, but are governed by the marketplace and the competitive rates triggered by loan rates to institutions set by the Federal Reserve Bank. Excessive or illegal interest rate

Utility patent

A patent issued for inventions that perform useful functions. Most inventions fall into this category. A utility patent lasts for 20 years from the patent application’s filing date.

Utter

v. 1) to issue a forged document. 2) to speak.

Uxor

Latin for “wife.” In deeds and documents the term “et ux.” is sometimes used to mean “and wife,” stemming from a time when a wife was a mere legal appendage of a man and not worthy of being named.