A quitclaim deed provides an easy way to transfer ownership of property from one individual to another, but these deeds aren’t without risk. They’re a legally binding conveyance, usually of real estate.
Revoking a quitclaim deed can be as simple as creating a new one, or it can involve full-blown litigation in court. Your options can be limited and difficult if you don’t have the consent of all parties involved.
Why Would Someone Do a Quitclaim Deed?
A quitclaim deed doesn’t give any guarantees or promises that the individual giving the property – the grantor – actually has any right to convey it to the grantee. It more or less says, “If I do have a right to convey this property, it’s yours.” It also doesn’t make any guarantees that there are no liens or encumbrances against the property.
Obviously, this isn't the type of deed you’d want to enter into if you were purchasing real estate. This type of deed is normally used between individuals who know each other pretty well and have knowledge of the status of the property in question.
Quitclaim deeds are often used to transfer ownership between spouses after a divorce. These deeds might also be used to transfer property in the course of settling an estate, to move it into a living trust or to add a spouse’s name to a house title after marriage.
How to Reverse a Quitclaim Deed
What to do if you convey property via a quitclaim deed, then you decide that you don’t want to transfer it after all? Can you undo it? Maybe, but maybe not.
The simplest way to cancel a quitclaim deed is to create and record a whole new deed transferring the property back to the original grantor. Of course, this requires the consent and agreement of both parties.
Check for Validity
The issue becomes trickier if both the grantor and the grantee don’t agree to turn things around. In this case, your first order of business might be to take the deed to an attorney for review. Rules for quitclaim deeds can vary by state, so you’ll want to enlist the help of a local professional. What you’re looking for – or asking a lawyer to look for – is some procedural error in the deed that would invalidate it. Maybe it wasn’t notarized or two different colors of ink were used.
This would require a trip to the courthouse in most cases. You’d have to file suit in a civil court to ask a judge to rule that the deed should be overturned on grounds that it didn’t meet the letter of the law to begin with.
Grounds of Undue Influence
Another option is to convince the court that the deed should be invalidated because the grantor was under undue influence when he signed it. He didn’t want to convey the property. He was forced into it by the grantee or another person. Maybe the grantor’s son or daughter said, “You'll never see your grandchildren again if you don’t give me this house!”
You’d have to file a lawsuit and prove undue influence to a judge’s satisfaction. Absent a confession from the guilty party, you’d have to produce evidence and witness testimony in court.
A quitclaim deed can be canceled due to the incompetency of the grantor as well. This also requires filing a lawsuit and asking a judge to rule that the grantor wasn’t in her right mind at the time she signed the deed.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that she was senile or otherwise mentally incapacitated by some permanent condition. Maybe she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when she signed the deed. Maybe she was under a great deal of emotional distress because her spouse had just died.
Again, you’d have to provide witness testimony and evidence that this was the case. You might have an additional option with this defense, however. You could conceivably get physicians’ reports or testimony as to the mental capacity of the grantor.
The First Step – File a Lis Pendens
Whether you’re challenging the procedural validity of the deed or the mental state of the grantor, you might want to take a step to protect yourself while the matter is playing out in court. You can file a “lis pendens,” typically with the county where the deed has been recorded.
A lis pendens is effectively a red flag. It’s a public announcement to anyone interested in purchasing the property that litigation is pending against the title. This won’t cancel or void a quitclaim deed by itself, but it will discourage anyone else from getting involved with the property’s ownership until the situation is resolved.
- NOLO: Revoking a Quitclaim Deed – Undue Influence
- LegalNature: Can I Reverse a Quitclaim Deed?
- Bankrate: What You Should Know About Quitclaim Deeds
- LawDepot: Quitclaim Deed FAQ – United States
- HG.org. "Contracts 101—Warranty vs Quitclaim Deeds." Accessed Aug. 12, 2020.
- Realtor.com. "When Do You Need to Get a Quitclaim Deed?' Accessed Aug. 12, 2020.
- DivorceNet. "Interspousal Transfers Versus Quit Claim Deeds." Accessed Aug. 12, 2020.
- California State Board of Equalization. "Property Ownership and Deed Recording," Page 7. Accessed Aug. 13, 2020.
- The grantee of the original quitclaim is not obligated to reverse the transaction. Seek the help of an attorney if the grantee refuses.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.