A deed is something you probably don’t think much about until you have to buy, sell, or otherwise transfer real property. A deed is the legal instrument that transfers ownership of that property from one party to another. So when you are the person granting the deed (the grantor), and especially when you’re the person receiving the deed (and the property), you want to be sure that the deed has been executed in such a way that it is valid. If it is not, of course, it could create legal problems down the road for the person or persons who believe they are the legal owners of the property.
Let’s discuss what the requirements for a valid deed are, the ways in which a deed that seems valid might not actually be, and what to do if you need to challenge a deed.
Requirements for a Valid Deed in Michigan
First off, let’s talk about the different types of deeds. For the purposes of this blog post, we are going to be talking primarily about warranty deeds. A warranty deed is pretty much what it sounds like: it offers a warranty of the grantor’s legal title in the property. A quitclaim deed, on the other hand, only conveys the right, title, and interest the grantor has in the property. So someone could offer you a quitclaim deed to the biggest mansion in town, but unless they had a legal right to that property, the deed would be worth about as much as the paper it was printed on.
Speaking of which, one requirement of a deed (unsurprisingly) is that it be in writing. Other requirements are:
- That the grantor(s) be legally competent to execute a deed;
- That the deed convey title to real property;
- That it contain the legibly written names of all grantors and grantees;
- That it identify the property by its address and legal description;
- That it be signed by the grantor;
- That the grantor’s signature be witnessed by a notary, who must acknowledge and seal the deed;
- That the deed be delivered and accepted by the grantee.
The deed does not need to be recorded in the office of the County Recorder of Deeds in order to be valid between the grantor and the grantee. However, it is still very important to record the deed. Recording the deed establishes priority and the sequence of ownership. It is rare that a grantor would execute deeds to two separate parties for the same property, but if it happened, the party that recorded first would be in a stronger legal position.
There are a number of circumstances in which a deed might not be valid:
- The grantor lacked the legal capacity to execute a deed (such as if he or she had severe dementia and did not understand the nature of his or her actions);
- The grantor did not have the legal right to convey the property;
- The deed did not meet the written requirements (such as if it failed to accurately describe the property);
- The deed was forged;
- The deed was induced by fraud, misrepresentation, coercion, duress, or undue influence;
- The deed was not delivered, or not delivered properly, and there was no acceptance by the grantee.
It may not be obvious from looking at a deed that it is not valid, or that it might not be valid. That can make it more difficult to challenge a deed in court. Circumstantial evidence may be needed to prove the deed’s lack of validity.
Challenging a Deed in Michigan
When might you need to challenge a deed? Admittedly, it is not a situation that arises often, but when it does, you need competent legal help. You are challenging someone’s claimed property rights, and courts do not set aside these rights lightly.
One situation in which the need to challenge a deed might arise is a dispute within a family. An elderly parent might, for example, transfer their home to an adult child who is caring for them. The parent might intend the adult child to share the proceeds of the house with the child’s siblings after the parent’s death. But when that time comes, the child who received the house might not want to sell the house or to share. The siblings might want to challenge the deed if they suspect that the parent wasn’t legally competent to execute it, or if they believe the grantee exerted pressure on the parent to deed the property to her alone.
If you believe that someone in your life transferred real property to someone else, and that the deed in question is not valid, you need to act quickly. Challenging a deed is, as noted above, difficult, and you will need the assistance of an experienced Michigan real estate and probate attorney to mount a successful challenge. We invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation and discuss your concerns.