Newland's Business Notes

Deeds, Wills, Surveys & Title Insurance – Part I

Volume 9 Issue 6 -- November/December 2005

Many people only have a dim understanding or a pronounced lack of interest in the items mentioned in the title.  Even though a real estate purchase may be the largest purchase that most people make in their lives, the interrelationship and importance of some of the documents mentioned above are not well understood.

This newsletter and a subsequent issue will try to shed some light on these subjects. The issues discussed here might generally be referred to as problems of “title” to real estate. The word “title” here means the legal right of ownership to property.

Suppose that Pop Long died in 1954 leaving a Will that passed his farm, Rocky Acres, to his son Shorty Long.  Mom and Pop Long had purchased the farm in 1920 from Angeline Weems who provided a deed to Mom and Pop.  Mom Long predeceased Pop.

Outdated Survey

The deed was prepared by M. Y. Opic, a local attorney, based on a property survey done by George Washington some time ago.  As is found in many older deeds, the description of the property began with the location of a henhouse on the northwest corner of the property and proceeded by “roods” and “poles” to a particular point.  (Roods and poles are measurements found in older deeds.) 

Unfortunately the henhouse was blown away in a storm some time ago, so the beginning point of the property description is now not marked. 

A property description starts with a stated beginning point and follows various distances at certain angles specified by compass coordinates.  This is called a “metes and bounds” description.  On the East Coast such descriptions are rather common.  As one moves to the Midwest , where property was laid out in a grid style, the property descriptions are much easier to understand.  In many developed areas a surveyor will lay out parcels or lots in a development under construction.  The master plan, known as the “plat,” is recorded.  In such cases, the property descriptions may be rather simple, referring, for example, to the property as “ Lot  3B.”  

Years after inheriting the property, Shorty Long now wants to sell Rocky Acres.  A would-be purchaser looks at the deed and notices that the henhouse referred to in the property description is no longer on the property.  Normally, a would-be buyer would not look at a deed but it so happens this particular buyer is an insurance agent for a title insurance company. 

What is Shorty to do? He wants to sell his property but faces questions about the boundaries of the deed because the starting point of the property description, the henhouse, is missing. 

The answer is to get a property survey.  A survey will confirm the boundaries of the property.  In cases of questionable property descriptions, many careful would-be buyers will not go through with the purchase of the property until it is surveyed. 

Missing boundary points are not the only source of problems with deeds. Roads create another common problem. Often, when a road goes through or near property, the state or local government will take part of the property, often along an edge of the parcel, thus causing the previous property description in the deed to be no longer correct. Both the total size of the property and the boundaries will have changed. 


Another problem for real estate titles, particularly in Virginia , is the practice of recording Wills as a way of transferring title.  For example, when Pop died and Shorty inherited the property in 1954, there was no new deed to Shorty.  Instead Pop’s Will was recorded, so someone trying to follow a chain of title would have to go to what is called the Will Book and read the Will to see that the property passed to Shorty.  The new deed which Shorty gives to the purchaser will recite those facts. 

It would probably be advisable in some cases to issue a new deed to someone like Shorty in order to have a clear record of title to the land. 

A compounding factor can arise when property passes by Will to several children. One or more of them may die without a Will, thus causing ownership of the property to be diffused among other family members under the rules of intestacy. 

In the next issue, we’ll continue this discussion. In the meantime, if you have further questions, call Newland & Associates.

Copyright 2005

Published by the law firm of Newland & Associates, PLC
9835 Business Way
Manassas, VA 20110
Call us at (703) 330-0000 for a full range of business law and tax-related services.

While designed to be accurate, this publication is not intended to constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services or to serve as a substitute for such services.

Redistribution or other commercial use of the material contained in Newland's Business Notes is expressly prohibited without the written permission of Newland & Associates, PLC.

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