Property Deeds: Common Questions Answered

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Legal questions surrounding property deeds can be confusing and daunting, but we're here to help.

Does the concept of “finders keepers” apply to an old property deed? Land and law professional Jean Vernon has answers to your deed questions.

An Old Property Deed

Q. I have found a warranty deed for 81.60 acres of land. The land has changed hands, but without the warranty deed, for I have it … The deed states the land was sold in 1950 for $500. Does possession of an old deed determine ownership? Where do I stand?
–William F. McCulley, AR

A. Each time land is sold or transferred, the seller must prepare and sign a new deed naming the grantee who receives the land. Old deeds are no longer valid once the new deed is recorded. You have an interesting curiosity, but if the land has been transferred properly since your deed was executed, you don’t have any claim or title to the land.

Splitting Land Between Multiple Owners

Q. My family has occupied a tract of land in Kentucky since the mid 1800s. Currently, there are four remaining owners of the land: myself, a brother and two sisters. All of us share an interest in the entire property (approximately 395 acres), which is made up of several smaller tracts. We all get along and are not squabbling over the property. However, we all realize that joint interest is not in our best interests and would like to legally split up the property. We had the land appraised in 1991 and the results showed a wide range of values per acre. How do we begin getting a handle on a method for determining an equitable distribution? Simply splitting it up by total acreage would not seem equitable. Can a lawyer help, or do we need someone else?
–Fred Cooks, KY

A. You are wise to consider separate ownership of the property. Even the closest family relationships can suffer great strain from a dispute. Since the parcels vary greatly in value, the division will not be easy, but the fact that you get along well should help a great deal. Here’s a suggestion: Start by listing the parcels, their values and the amenities that make them valuable. Then each of you might note your preferences in descending order. As much as possible, each person should receive his or her first choice parcel(s). After first choices are made, dividing up the remaining parcels might be easier; perhaps proximity to the other parcels will suggest the logical divisions. If a person ends up receiving less valuable land overall, then perhaps he or she should receive more actual acres to compensate.

If the existing tracts lend themselves to this type of land division, it will be relatively easy to create deeds to each other to accomplish your land split. If a parcel must be divided, you should check with your county to determine if a survey is necessary, or if you can simply subdivide with new legal descriptions. Depending on what is common for your state, you may use either an attorney, a title company or an escrow company to draw up the necessary paperwork and deeds. The cost should be relatively small if you are in complete agreement, as no money will be changing hands. Good luck to all of you.

Easements and Utilities

Q. We have a recorded easement dating back to 1971 in which it states we have the rights, rights of way [and] easements of record–those apparent on the land and to a 60-foot-wide easement for joint user of roadway and for all other purposes on the boundary borders (as specified). Our question is: Does this include utilities, such as power? We could bring in power from the main highway approximately 500 feet away. If we need to include this in the easement, do we go to the clerk’s office to do this?
–C. Hudak, OR

A. Normally an easement must specifically state that it is for utilities in order to install them on the easement. If that language is included in your easement, you are home free. I did not read that language in your above question, but perhaps it is included in an unmentioned portion of the record. You may want to have an attorney check your easement description as the words “other purposes” may be interpreted to include utilities. If your easement does not provide for installation of utilities, only the landowner whose land the easement crosses can grant you the right to install them. If he or she does give you that right be sure to put it in writing and record it with your county auditor’s or clerk’s office.