Property law uses many archaic terms that are unique to the use and transfer of real estate. “Deed” is one of these terms, which simply refers to a document used to convey property ownership interests. You can think of a deed as a type of contract, although it has many formal requirements that a non-real estate contract lacks. Wherever you transfer or receive property, you will use a deed.
Unique Requirements for a Deed
The special treatment of deeds arises from three concepts. First, property lasts forever, which means that a person who preceded you by many generations may still have a lingering ownership right in the property. Deeds, and the governmental system to record said deeds, were created to track these rights.
Second, all property is unique. When you acquire a piece of property, the deed must describe what you received, a description that often uses the plat map, along with the metes and bounds provided by the city, to ensure that both parties know exactly what was transferred.
Third, real estate property encompasses many rights, such as:
- The right to use
- The right to exclude others
- Water rights
- Mineral rights
A deed describes the rights involved in the transaction, and in most cases, the recipient receives “all rights, title, and interests” in the property; however, some transactions might focus on only some of these rights, like granting a utility easement across the back of your property to the water company.
As a result of these concepts, all deeds must include or involve the following traits:
- Be in writing
- Describe the property
- Include language of conveyance, including a description of the rights transferred
- Include the grantor’s name and signature or the signature of an agent acting on the grantor’s behalf
- Include the grantee’s name
Also, the transaction surrounding the deed must meet certain requirements, which are as follows:
- The grantor must have the legal capacity to transfer the property, including being at least 18 years old and mentally competent
- The deed must be delivered to the grantee
- The grantee must accept the deed
If any of these requirements fail, the property transfer may be void or otherwise voidable, depending on the problem at hand.
All deeds must meet these minimum requirements, but not all deeds perform the same functions. The two main characteristics of deeds include the following:
- The property rights conveyed
- The warranties made by the grantor
Types of Deeds
Deeds generally fall into a few types, such as:
General Warranty Deed
A general warranty deed conveys all interests in the property. It also includes the following four important warranties from the grantor:
- The grantor has the right to transfer all the interests in the property
- The property is free from all liens, mortgages, and other encumbrances
- The grantee will not be disturbed by anyone else claiming to have rights to the property
- The grantor will deliver all documents necessary to transfer all the rights and make good on the warranties
If the grantor breaches any of these warranties, the grantee can sue for damages.
Special Warranty Deed
A special warranty deed is like a general warranty deed, though with an important limitation. Through the latter, the grantor warrants that neither they nor any prior owner did anything to interfere with the grantee’s rights. The former only covers the grantor’s period of ownership, and the grantor does not warrant actions taken by any prior owner.
Quitclaim deeds include a conveyance but no warranties. A quitclaim conveys “all the rights [you] have,” but it does not try to explain the scope of those rights.
Since all property conveyances occur via deeds, special use deeds also exist for unusual transactions, such as:
- Tax sales
- Sheriff’s sales
- Foreclosure sales
- Transfers in a will
These deeds often take the form of a quitclaim deed, as the grantor cannot warrant what the prior owner did or did not do.
Reviewing Your Deeds
Whether you are buying or selling property, contact Merlino & Gonzalez for help interpreting your deed. We are a real estate and elder planning law firm in Staten Island, NY.