A wild deed, also known as a thin-air deed, is a recorded deed that isn’t in the chain of title.
The chain of title error is because a previous instrument connected to the chain of title was not recorded.
Unfortunately, even though you have little control over wild deeds, they can still cause many issues with a property.
For example, when you sell your property or refinance your mortgage are two instances of when you can run into a problem.
The resolution also depends on the state you reside in.
If you want to protect yourself as much as possible from wild deeds — or you just found out that one exists on your property — keep reading.
Here’s everything you need to know!
1. What is a wild deed?
A wild deed is a deed that was not recorded.
This means the deed is not indexed or connected to a chain of title.
When this occurs, it can be difficult to discover a wild deed during the title search.
In fact, in some cases, wild deeds aren’t discoverable at all.
2. What is the chain of title?
The chain of title tells the story of the property starting with who built it and all its subsequent purchasers.
The chain of title should always reflect complete, continuous, unbroken ownership of a property.
If there’s an interruption in the chain of title, this is when a wild deed can occur.
Having the chain of title be uninterrupted is your defense if your rights as owner of the property are ever called into question.
3. What do you do if the title company makes a mistake?
You just bought a property, and you’re looking the deed over.
Oh no…is that a mistake?
It may be a small one, but there it is clear as day.
You know that even the smallest mistakes on the deed can impact the chain of title.
What do you do?
You can rest easy knowing that a recorded document that contains the incorrect name for a buyer (i.e., misspelled) is not a wild deed and is still enforceable between the parties to the document.
A party is unlikely to be able to argue that the transfer wasn’t valid just because the name of the buyer/seller was incorrectly written.
That said, it’s essential to make the correction when you’re ready to make the sale.
A new buyer can refuse to accept the title of the property because of the issue.
Additionally, a lender may be unwilling to give you a loan until this issue has been resolved.
Here are some common mistakes on a deed that could impact title rights.
Incorrect name or nickname
Incorrect or insufficient legal description
Incorrect consideration amount
Lack of notary seal
Lack of subscribing witnesses
Defective or missing acknowledgments
Missing marital status of grantors on a non-homestead statement
Failure to obtain joinder of grantor’s spouse on the deed to homestead property
4. How do you correct a deed with mistakes?
If your deed has an incorrect name, you can typically correct it by recording a new deed granting the property to yourself.
For example, “Jane Dawson, who acquired the title as Jane Daweson, hereby grants to Jane Dawson…”
This clarifies the chain of title, so you shouldn’t have trouble reselling or refinancing the property.
If your deed is impacted by a more complex error (such as incorrect legal information), then your deed must be fixed according to your state’s regulations.
We recommend taking it back to the original grantor, real estate attorney, or title agent for this process.
Here are the steps that will occur.
Decide if the error is harmless or fatal to title transfer
Determine what instrument is best suited to the error
Draft a corrective deed, affidavit, or new deed
Get the original signature(s) of the grantor(s)
Re-execute the deed with proper notarization and witnessing
Enter the deed into the public record
Deep reformation action — a court process to determine if there is proof of a mutual mistake, fraud, accident, illegality, or unjust enrichment on a deed — is the last resort.
This process is done to correct an issue with a deed when all of the above have been exhausted.
Typically, it’s combined with foreclosure as a way to clean up anything clouding the title.
5. What happens if you discover a wild deed on your property?
In most cases, discovering a wild deed on your property won’t impact your ownership.
Under the Recording Acts of many states, wild deeds offer no notice to subsequent good faith purchasers.
This means most states will disregard them (see below for context).
However, some states (i.e., race states) may recognize the wild deed as legitimate, especially if the current owner was aware of the wild deed before purchasing the property.
6. What are the Recording Acts?
The Recording Acts are state statutes that establish the keeping of official country records to track public land ownership.
The Acts settle conflicts of ownership in real property by prioritizing ownership documents.
This order of priority is determined by the type of statute that the state has adopted.
There are three types of priority: race, notice, or race-notice.
Also known as “race to the courthouse,” this is the rule that states that the document recorded first will win over any later recordings.
North Carolina, Louisiana, and Delaware follow the race statute.
This statute says that a later buyer who pays fair value for the property and doesn’t have notice that there were any other earlier conflicting interests will win and have priority over later recordings.
Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Caroline, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia follow the notice statute.
In this rule, a later buyer who doesn’t have notice of any other earlier conflicting interests and records first will win and have priority over later recordings.
Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio (regarding mortgages, OH follows the Race statute), Oregon, Pennsylvania (regarding mortgages, PN follows Race), South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming follow the race-notice statute.
7. What is a title search?
Title search, also known as property title search, is when files from a county records department are reviewed to find a particular property’s title ownership history.
This process is often conducted by a commercial agent, abstractor, title company, or real estate attorney.
8. What documents are examined during a title search?
During the process of a title search, the following documents may be examined:
Various other kinds of real estate documents
9. Why is a title search performed?
A property title search is done to confirm that a seller is actually the legal owner of the property being sold.
In certain situations, a title may be clouded by a defect that reduces the value of the property or subjects the purchaser to some type of legal liability.
10. What types of defects can a title have?
Here are a few examples of title defects:
An unreleased lien or a mortgage lien attached to the property
Pending probate issues regarding the property
Fraudulent or forged title
Error in the chain of title
Various other documents that make the title questionable
11. What is title insurance?
Title insurance provides protection for property purchasers as well as their mortgage lenders against any defects or problems with the title.
There are two main types of title insurance that are used.
Owner’s policy: protects the new owner of the property
Lender’s policy: protects the lender providing the funding of the property
Most real estate transactions see getting title insurance as standard; it is more or less a required step in the process by the lender.
The good news is that the buyer only pays for title insurance once, and after that, the insurance remains effective until the owner sells or refinances the property.
12. Why is it difficult or impossible to find a wild deed during a title search?
A wild deed isn’t in the chain of title.
This means that traditional records won’t hold information about a wild deed, and thus, it can be difficult to learn about it through normal means.
13. Does title insurance protect you against wild deeds?
Some title insurance does, and some does not.
In many cases, an individual won’t be able to recover title insurance benefits if a wild deed exists.
That said, if a wild deed could or should have been discovered by a title search, then it may be covered by title insurance.
14. Do you need a lawyer if you discover a wild deed?
If you have a wild deed, we’d recommend hiring a real estate attorney (if you don’t already have one).
Your attorney can advise you about how to handle a wild deed in your state and your specific circumstances.
Working with an attorney will ensure that your property rights are protected as you resolve the situation.
The ultimate goal is to either have the wild deed removed or bring action against your title insurer (if your state recognizes wild deeds as legitimate).
Either way, your attorney can walk you through the process and advocate for you the entire time.
15. How many types of deeds are commonly used?
There are three deeds that are commonly used: the grant deed, quitclaim deed, and warranty deed.
Grant deed: This is a legal document used to transfer ownership of real property.
It officially indicates that a title has not already been granted to another person.
The deed contains the following information:
- The person or entity transferring the property
- The legal description of the property being transferred
- The person or entity that the property is being transferred to
- The signature of each person/entity transferring the property to make it legally valid
Quitclaim deed: This legal document is a fast way to transfer property to a buyer.
Unlike general or special warranty deeds, it doesn’t include protections for the buyer.
Warranty deed: This legal document is used in real estate and provides the greatest protection to the purchaser of the property by guaranteeing a clear title to the buyer.
The seller provides assurances to the buyer if anything unexpected occurs.
16. What is an illegal deed?
Deeds are not truly illegal, but their delivery can be illegal in a situation where the court finds that a seller doesn’t have immediate intent to transfer ownership of the property.
Evidence of illegal deed delivery includes seller hesitation and uncertainty or outright fraud.
17. Does a deed need to be notarized?
Yes, a deed must be both notarized and filed in public records.
In some states, deeds also require a witness.
18. Why are wild deeds a problem?
When your deed isn’t recorded, it could make create difficulties for later land transfers or make it hard for you to sell the property.
It will also be difficult for you or your buyer to get a mortgage or title insurance if your deed isn’t recorded.
Additionally, there could be difficulties in enforcing a wild deed if the property is sold to multiple buyers.
A similar issue occurred during the 2008 real estate bubble.
There were several robo-signing mortgages that were not registered properly and caused challenges in the mortgage industry.
19. What’s an example of a wild deed?
Carson sells his land to Dave, but Dave doesn’t record his deed.
Dave later sells his land to Claire.
Claire records her deed.
The previous deed from Carson to Dave was not recorded, and as a result, Claire’s deed is outside the chain of title.
Having a clean title is an incredibly important part of the purchasing process.
Make sure you work with a professional to ensure you correctly transfer the title, so there are no issues with the deed or the chain of title (also known as a wild deed!).
As a buyer, this will benefit you down the road when you become the seller.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.