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What is a Deed?

Updated on January 29, 2010

A deed, in law, is a signed writing that immediately transfers ownership of land. Such a transfer is a conveyance. Ownership of land means having the legal or equitable title to real property. The transfer must be made between existing persons, the grantor transferring to the grantee.

What Distinguishes a Deed

A deed immediately and irrevocably conveys the grantor's ownership of real property at the time of the deed's execution and delivery to the grantee, even though the grantee's possession of the land may be deferred. Also, a deed conveys land regardless of whether the conveyance is for a consideration (something given in return, such as the purchase price) or is made gratuitously.

Transferring by deed is not the only method of transferring ownership of land. Another method is by operation of law: for example, adverse possession, the exclusive, continuous, well-known occupation of land, without permission of the owner, for a designated statutory period. Still another method of transfer is by will. A real property mortgage, however, today generally does not transfer ownership of land but rather is a nonpossessory lien- that is, a security interest-in land. A "deed of trust," or trust deed, is a writing similar in form to a deed, purporting to convey title to a trustee to hold as security and to sell if the debtor defaults. However, this is not a deed but is treated as a mortgage. Likewise, a contract to convey ownership of land is not a deed because it is executory (that is, it does not make a present conveyance); it contemplates a deed later. Generally, the intention of the parties as expressed in the writing, particularly that of the grantor, determines its nature and legal effect as a deed.

Kinds of Deed

A quitclaim deed releases and conveys whatever interest in the land the grantor may have in order to clear the title; it does not contain any covenants or warranties. A bargain and sale deed conveys title for a consideration, which need not be stated in the deed; it does not contain any covenants or warranties. A warranty deed conveys title and contains covenants and warranties by the grantor.

Contents of a Deed

A deed need not be in a particular form, unless otherwise prescribed by statute. However, it must manifest an intention to make a present conveyance of specific land to a named grantee and be signed by the grantor. The grantor may sign personally or by delegating a third person, usually authorized in writing, to do so. He may adopt any signature as his own and may ratify an unauthorized imitation or reproduction of his signature. His seal is not generally required. A written certificate of acknowledgment, signed by a public officer authorized to take acknowledgments, should immediately follow on the deed; this authenticates the deed, and many states require it for recording a deed.

A deed need not be recorded in the proper public office to be valid and operative between the grantor and grantee. However, recording of the deed is necessary to protect the grantee's title as against third persons innocent of the deed- for example, subsequent purchasers of the land from, or creditors of, the recorded owner. Also, the absence of required revenue stamps on a deed does not invalidate it.


For the writing to be a conveyance and a deed, the grantor must deliver it to the grantee, who must accept it. His delivery to a third person for delivery to the grantee unconditionally and immediately on the expiration of a specified time, or on the occurrence of an event certain to happen, is an absolute delivery and a conveyance. If the third person is to deliver the writing to the grantee only on the occurrence of a condition, such as payment, it is a delivery in escrow and therefore not an absolute delivery; the writing is not a deed, and the grantor is entitled to its return on failure of fulfillment of the condition.


Generally, if the grantee acquires a deed by fraudulent inducement, duress, coercion, or undue influence on the grantor, the deed is voidable at the grantor's discretion and reclaimable by him. However, an innocent purchaser for value of the land from the grantee prior to the grantor's avoiding of the deed acquires legal title to the land.


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