What is a Land Title and what should I know about it?

Large Piece of Land

Whether you’re a prospective buyer or found yourself the new owner of a piece of land through an inheritance, there are a few things to know about when it comes to land title. This article is going cover all things land title, including what it means to have “clear” title. In general, laws regarding land ownership can be very complex, and although this article will attempt to provide a brief overview of different terms and things to know, having an experienced attorney on your side can help with navigating all things land ownership.

First, it should be explained that property deeds and property titles are not the same thing. A title to a piece of property is the instrument that proves ownership of that property.  Technically, titles can be instruments of ownership for many things, such as vehicles and homes.  For purposes of this article, we are only discussing real property; land, homes, real estate, etc….  Real estate titles show that you have ownership of and rights to use of the property.  Your interest in the property may be in full, or in part, such as joint ownership.  .  The land title for a piece of real estate will specify the ownership interest owned by the holder of the title.  A land title also indicates what percentage of the property the title holder can legally transfer. 

A deed is the written instrument, also known as the “vehicle,” that transfers title of real property from one owner to another.  When land title ownership changes hands, whether through a real estate transaction or gifted through a will, the transfer must happen through a written deed.  The deed will specify who is transferring the title away and who is receiving it.  There are laws in each state about how to properly execute a deed, and in New Jersey, deeding title to real property must comply with what is known as the Statute of Frauds.  This means that it must be in writing, it must be delivered and accepted, and it must be recorded with the clerk of the court or local assessors’ office in order to be considered “perfected.”  (Failing to record a deed will not invalidate it, it will just be an imperfect deed; additionally, an imperfect deed will not affect the title.)

To reiterate, a land title, also known as a certificate of title, is the formal document that states what a persons rights are in a piece of property.  It could be a single person, or group of persons, and as mentioned above, the ownership could be in part or in full.  The land title will also outline any liens, easements, natural resource, and other rights the owner has in the land.  A single piece of land might even be separated between surface and subsurface, with different people owning each.  This situation might arise in more rural areas where there are minerals or other natural resources under the surface of the earth that can be extracted or used.   

Land titles are, at their core, proof of land ownership.  Owners to certificates of title should take care to keep their land title in a secure place, such as locked away in a safe with a combination, or a safe deposit box at their bank.  You can retain multiple copies of the certificate of title, and there is usually a minimal fee your county clerk’s office will charge for providing additional copies of the original title.  In order to prevent land disputes from getting out of hand, it is important to know where your certificate of title is at all times and ensure you will be able to access them.  Along the same line, if there are multiple owners of the same piece of land, each owner should retain a copy of their ownership title and make sure they each have access without needing to consult with or get assistance from any of the other owners.  This is because people might be unavailable when you need them, or it could be the case that the person you are having the dispute with is in fact the other owner(s).  Different types of land title owners might be: siblings, friends/business partners, or family members with joint ownership, married couples (this is known as community property), trust-based ownership where the title to a piece of property is the asset in a trust, and corporate or company ownership where a business entity owns the title as opposed to a natural person.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article were created to provide general information, it is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship and shall not be construed as legal advice. You should not act upon any information provided in this article without seeking professional legal counsel from an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. No representations are being made as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained in this article or on this site or sites linked hereto. If this pamphlet is inaccurate or misleading, report same to the Committee on Attorney Advertising, Hughes Justice Complex, CN 037, Trenton, NJ 08625. “No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.”
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