The Formal Requirements for a Deed - dummies

The Formal Requirements for a Deed

By Alan R. Romero

A deed is generally a pretty short and simple legal document, maybe just a couple of pages long. Sometimes deeds use exotic-sounding, or archaic-sounding, legal terminology. But the formal requirements for a valid deed are pretty simple. A deed must be in writing because the statute of frauds requires a writing for the transfer of any interest in land other than short-term interests. Additionally, a written deed must always

  • Identify the parties involved

  • Identify the land being conveyed

  • Express the grantor’s intent to convey the land to the grantee

  • Include the signature of the grantor

Identifying the parties

The deed must name or otherwise sufficiently identify the grantor and the grantee. Some state statutes require the parties’ addresses and marital status in addition to their names, and some courts have held that the grantor’s signature (a required component of a valid deed) doesn’t sufficiently identify the grantor.

Perhaps surprisingly, most courts have held that a deed in which the grantee’s name is intentionally left blank, to be filled in later, is valid as soon as the grantee’s name is written in. But if there’s no grantee, the deed is void, because it can’t very well transfer an interest to a nonperson.

Identifying the land

The deed must identify the land conveyed. If the deed doesn’t describe the land in a way that can be identified on the ground, it’s void and doesn’t convey anything. There are several ways the deed may legally describe the land.

Expressing intent to convey

The deed must somehow express that the grantor intends to convey the interest to the grantee by means of the deed. The words “grants” and “conveys” make it pretty clear that the grantor is conveying the named interest to the grantee.

Sometimes drafters of deeds seem to feel that there must be one magic word to use, but they aren’t sure which word it is — so they use every synonym they can think of, like “grantor hereby grants, conveys, bargains, sells, transfers, sets over, and delivers” the property to the grantee. That’s overkill — one word will do.

A state statute may specify some magic words for a different purpose — words that, when used in a deed, have the effect of making certain warranties of title, not just conveying title. You do need to know what those words are so that you don’t make warranties of title when you don’t mean to.

Any word that indicates a present conveyance will do, but sometimes drafters have written that the grantor “warrants” title without ever saying the grantor actually conveys title. Sometimes drafters also have got in trouble because they used words that indicated an intent to convey in the future rather than in the present.

Signing the deed

For a deed to be valid, the grantor must sign it. She can sign her name or make any other mark intended to validate the deed, and she can even have her agent sign for her. But if she doesn’t sign the deed somehow, the deed is void.

The grantee doesn’t need to sign the deed for it to be valid; only the grantor needs to sign.