Any title owner wishing to sell or refinance his house must prove ownership by producing the document which transferred title to him, known as his deed. Transfer deeds are typically copied and indexed ("recorded") in the public land records so that they become available for public viewing. Typically the act of recording the deed proves title, such that the legal owner does not have to possess the original deed to transfer his home. Contrary to popular belief, a deed does not have to be recorded to be effective. However, it is tricky to prove title if you lose an unrecorded deed.
Research Whether Deed is Recorded
Check with your local land records' office (known variously as the County Recorder's Office, Land Registry Office or Register for Deeds) in the locality where the property is situated. This may require a trip to the courthouse. Some counties have online search facilities, generally searchable by owner's name. If the deed is recorded you can request a photocopy or a certified copy for a small fee. The certified copy is sufficient evidence of title.
Contact Closing Attorney for Copy
Check with the attorney you used during house closing, who may hold the original or a copy of your deed. If your attorney arranged for your deed to be recorded, the recorder might have mailed the original deed back to him after making the requisite entry in the deed book.
Title Company May Have Copy
Contact the title company that you or your closing company hired when you purchased your home. Title companies examine a property's title to make sure that all liens are paid and the seller transfer clear title. Typically they record deeds on the buyer's behalf. Even if they mistakenly failed to record your deed, they may retain a copy.
Contact the Grantor
Ask the original grantor (the person who transferred the property to you) for a confirmatory grant. If the deed is genuinely lost and not recorded, you can perfect your title with a replacement grant from your predecessor in title, or his heirs. This is not a new transfer, but a confirmation of the original one.
File for Quiet Title
Consult a real estate attorney about the possibility of filing an action for quiet title. This legal process establishes title to a property, where that title is clouded or otherwise in doubt. If successful, the court will recognize your legal ownership above the competing claims of any other person. Quiet title actions are typically filed in the superior court of the county where the real property is located, and the court has the power to grant such equitable relief as may be fair and proper in the circumstances. The burden of proof is on the title owner (plaintiff) to support his title claim.
Title Vs. Clear Title
Locating a copy of the deed proves title, but not necessarily a clear title. Professional title abstractors search a variety of records and sources to determine of the title is good and clear. However, establishing legal ownership is a pre-requisite to obtaining title insurance, which offers protection against future adverse claims.
Jayne Thompson earned an LLB in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LLM in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “big law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous financial blogs including Wealth Soup and Synchrony. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.