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Scribblers Beware!

Don't write on your quitclaim deeds or other legal documents. May 4, 2022

You may be tempted to edit, cross out, or clarify information on an original, and previously unrecorded, Quitclaim deed.  These types of deeds are often used between family members to transfer ownership of a piece of property from one family member to another, without warranties. Often these original, unrecorded deeds are tucked away, to be recorded after the owner’s death. We even have a name for them: “dresser-drawer deeds”.

Dresser-drawer deeds are already problematic, because of technical rules about whether the deed was intended to transfer the property during the owner’s lifetime – whether it was “delivered” to the new owner named in the deed. Any modification to the deed could create additional questions regarding those intentions.   

If there’s a concern about the validity of that deed, it might not be accepted for recording at the County. Or even if the County accepts it for recording, a title company might not be willing to insure marketable title based on the deed. They will require that a Probate Court proceeding be used to determine the proper ownership. A Judge may hold a public hearing.  He or she will begin to make decisions about the ownership of the property based on technical rules in the law, which may be the exact opposite of what the scribbler likely intended.

If you need to work out some thoughts on paper, do it on a copy, not the original. Discuss the goal with a lawyer. Don’t take shortcuts thinking it will save you money or spare you having to talk to a stranger on a subject outside of your area of knowledge.  You can prepare and record a Quitclaim Deed yourself, use an online service, or hire an attorney in the state where the property is located.  Depending on how you choose to go, expect to pay between $18.00 to $400.00, including recording fees at the Register of Deeds in the county where the property is located. If you’re not sure about how to do it, get advice from someone whose job it is to know how to do it. Fixing a minor mistake will probably cost 10 or 20 times as much as avoiding the mistake in the first place.

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