Quitclaim deeds have many practical uses. They’re used when two people are divorcing and the home they own together is going to be transferred to just one of them. They're an efficient way to transfer property from a single person to joint ownership with their new spouse. They’re also commonly used when parents want to transfer ownership of their property to a trust or directly to their children.
Quitclaim Deed Defined
The quitclaim deed is usually a one-page document. There are usually two parties to a quitclaim deed – the grantor and the grantee. The grantor is the person giving up sole ownership of the property and the grantee is the person receiving it. The grantor or grantee can also be an entity like a trust.
As an example, let’s say a husband and wife own a home together. They’re divorcing and part of the divorce settlement is that the wife gets to keep the house. The husband, or grantor, would fill out a quitclaim deed transferring his 50 percent ownership to the wife and she becomes the sole owner of the home.
Money may or may not exchange hands as part of a quitclaim transaction. If money is exchanged, the amount is written on the quitclaim deed. So in our example, let’s say the wife gave the husband $20,000 in exchange for him signing the house over to her. The quitclaim deed would say something like, “For the consideration of $20,000, the grantor conveys and releases all of his rights and interest in the property to (his soon to be ex-wife).”
Quitclaim Deed Description
A quitclaim deed is almost always a simple one-page form that only the grantor has to sign. His name and a brief description is filled in. For example, “Robert Barnes, a single man … ” The grantee’s name and a brief description of her follows.
The quitclaim deed states that the property located at such and such address is being “granted” by the grantor to the grantee. Quitclaim deeds also include a legal description of the property such as its lot number and geographical parameters. If the legal description of the property is more than a few sentences, it’s on a separate page that's attached to the quitclaim deed as an addendum or exhibit.
Quitclaim deeds usually have to be notarized or signed in front of a county official where the property is located. Which brings us to how to record a quitclaim deed.
Recorded Quitclaim Deed
For a quitclaim deed to be valid, it has to be recorded at the county recorder’s office in the county where the property is located. If you’re using an attorney, paralegal or title company to handle the transaction for you, they will take care of this. If you’re doing it yourself, you’ll need to go down to your county recorder’s office.
It’s a good idea to call ahead to ask what documents they require. However, most county recorders just want the filled out, signed and notarized quitclaim deed, your identification and their own quitclaim deed form that they will give you to fill out when you get there. There is usually a nominal fee. After they’ve finished recording it, they will mail you a free copy of the quitclaim deed.
For example, the fee in Yavapai County, Arizona is $15. It must be paid in cash or by check. Other counties may take debit and credit cards – ask before you go down there. In general, the county recorder’s office is not a particularly busy place, so you probably won’t encounter a long line.
Evaluating Warranty Deeds
Warranty deeds are an increasingly popular way to do the same thing a quitclaim deed does but with warranties. They also efficiently transfer ownership of real estate, but they come with added protections for the grantee, the person receiving the property. Realtors almost exclusively use warranty deeds.
In addition to transferring ownership, a warranty deed guarantees that there are no liens or other impediments on the property – issues you might think of as “quitclaim deed loopholes.” Let’s say the couple above were not in the habit of filing joint tax returns and, unknown to the wife, the husband hasn’t filed his "married filing separately" return for several years. As a result, the Internal Revenue Service put a tax lien on the property. The husband would have to pay off that tax lien before legally signing a warranty deed.
This brings up an interesting point about researching a property for liens before you take ownership of it. This is usually the role of a title company. Since liens are public records, you could do the research yourself, but it's a job better left to title company pros or a real estate attorney. Title company fees are based on the purchase price of the property, so the cost may run into several thousand dollars, but the peace of mind is worth it.