No deed...how to get title?

10 Replies

I'm working on a deal where the owners cannot find a deed, which includes their (subpar) lawyer. The property has been owned by the sellers parents and grandparents over the years, getting transferred to the heirs as the various family members passed away over time. No one can find deeds of all these transfers, and the sellers are scheduled to lose the property to tax sale this summer. How can we secure clean title to this house in that time?

Deeds should have all been recorded with the county recorded. Those are the records that matter, not paper copies that other folks might have. Any title company can do a title search and figure out what's going on.

Now, if you mean unrecorded deeds or other relevant records then you may have a problem. If someone has some claim they might be able to file suit to gain possession. In that case a "quite title" suit might be needed to sort things out.

But if you just mean people have lost their copies of recorded documents then no big deal at all.

I mean that the probate lawyer was not able to find any of the previous transfers of title, per the seller. I'm pretty hesitant to buy this house if there might be other heirs out there

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I think you're saying the recorded documents don't match with what the heirs are claiming was done. That's where a quite title legal action is needed.

Jon, that's what I am saying, I appreciate the advice.

Justin, I have not performed a title search, as I don't really want to pay for one if I have strong doubts it will come up clean. I mentioned the probate lawyer was subpar, as he stopped returning the seller's calls and failed to produce title after probate.

@Matthew G.

We always have a title search done by the title insurance company. the sales contract specifies that the sale is contingent upon free and clear marketable title. If the title is not, then we don't settle and our title company only charges us for properties that actually settle. So no settlement, no title search or insurance costs.

I would be suspicious of the situation as you describe. Most times the probate attorney is not a real estate attorney.

If the property is a super smoking deal, I would not only have the above standard phrasing in the contract, but also provide that the seller will do what ever is needed to clear the title that they so graciously screwed up.

I see title that are self inflicted wounds, but seldom fatal. Often times the family is trying to avoid "look backs" in connection with a nursing home situation. Or they add family members to title and are not aware that they are hurting themselves with concern to the "stepped up basis" with the IRS. Then they go back and try to undo all the mess they created.

Many estate/probate attorneys, even good ones, are subpar real estate attorneys. Let me say that again: Probate/estate attorneys often know squat about real estate.

Who is trying to sell this property? Some heirs, all the heirs, and executor or admin?

The probate attorney is the last place I would start. Start with a title company and find out that status of title right now. What does the title company need to see happen, what will they require to transfer the property with marketable title.

Originally posted by @Jon Holdman :
I think you're saying the recorded documents don't match with what the heirs are claiming was done. That's where a quite title legal action is needed.

Where I am, if the chain of title involves deceased persons and heirs, usually the only way to solve it is with probate actions. The county recorders and the title companies need to see court ordered transfers. Quiet title is typically for when the party claiming interest wasn't an heir and had some claim of equitable interest.

Those of us who work title problems would LOVE to avoid probate. If one could just get deeds or assignments of interest from heirs and then quiet title, we would. And we have tried.

Matthew G. - There's too little info here really to give you any advice. You haven't even told us if your seller(s) is/are personal representative(s) of an open probate.

Other posters are correct in commenting that many probate attorneys are not very savvy when it comes to real estate [title]. I'll also add that I've never met a probate attorney who was very strong on debt collection practices.

Once you've obtained an opinion of title condition or prelim or similar offer of title insurance, review the ownership vesting as represented, as well as the exceptions noted in the report. Compare what title states with what your "sellers" have told you.

The difference is where (someone) will earn their money by solving those problems as well as taking certain risks. When I have told people in the past that I will occasionally buy a $300,000 property for 10-20 cents on the dollar and they want to argue saying that I can't, I still just tell them: "Yeah, you're probably right."

If you want better answers, ask better questions.