The Chain of Title and How it Impacts Real Estate Ownership

chain of title

The chain of title is a record of all property owners from the original to the current one, and the transactions that have taken place.  It is where you can look to see who has owned the property and how it was transferred.  This is the first place to look if there are any claims on the title of your property, as you’ll have a starting point to trouble shoot and resolve the issue.

Included in the chain of title are all of the legal documents that impact a property’s ownership, use, and value.  These documents include:

When buying or selling a property, you want to do a thorough review of the chain of title.  If a title transfer is inaccurate, or there is a gap in the ownership history of the property, there is a break in the chain of title and someone may eventually make a claim to your land.   And it can happen in multiple ways.

  • The ownership of the property is acquired through adverse possession.
  • The probate process is handled incorrectly.
  • A document in the chain of title is forged or fraudulent.
  • There are errors or omissions in the public records like a deed not being recorded correctly.
  • Heirs to a previous owner discovered they had a right to the property.
  • The legal description of a property is incomplete or inaccurate.
  • There are unreleased liens or encumbrances.

Each of these situations can result in a clouded titleTitle insurance companies may also hesitate to take on this risk and decline to offer you coverage or charge you more.  If you find out you have a break in the chain of title, don’t panic.  There are steps you can take to fix it.

  1. Start by gathering all available documents related to the property to help identify any gaps or inconsistencies.  Then hire a title company to conduct a title search to identify any gaps or inconsistencies. 
  2. Review the property’s chain of title to ensure that it is accurate and locate where the break occurred.
  3. Cure the defect by fixing the underlying issue that caused the break.
    1. If a previous owner failed to sign a deed, track down that person and have them sign the necessary paperwork.
    2. A duplicate of a lost or destroyed deed can be obtained from the appropriate government office.
    3. If an error or omission was in a previous deed, you’ll need a corrective deed.
    4. If a break in the chain of title cannot be cured any other way, you’ll need to file a quiet title action.
  4. Once the errors are corrected, record the documents with the county recorder’s office to ensure that the chain of title is complete and that there are no future disputes.

Having an accurate chain of title is one of the ways you can protect your property, so it is important to make sure there are no breaks.  If you’re curious about yours, or you want to have a title search done, give us a call at (703) 934-2100 and we’ll be happy to assist.

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