How to Determine Legal “Owner” of Real Estate

How can they tell me I’m not the owner!? We hear this question too often. Usually, a loan officer, realtor, or title company has told someone that they ARE NOT owner of record and the person is shocked and very upset. People have good reasons why they may think they own a particular property but the law is only concerned with legal ownership.   Property Deeds

Common Reasons Why People Believe They Own Real Property:

  • BUT I’ve paid the taxes for years!
  • BUT the property tax office has my name on the property account!
  • BUT I’ve been living on and maintaining the property for years!!
  • BUT I’m the one paying the mortgage/ who paid the mortgage!
  • BUT my grandpa left it to me when he died!
  • BUT we had an agreement that I would own the property!

So, what does the law say about ownership? The law says that we must look to the title/ deed records to determine ownership. Period. Absent a court order to the contrary, whoever is currently showing of record in the property deed records, IS the legal owner. If the legal owner is deceased, then the Estate of the deceased is the legal owner until the proper documents are filed by the heirs.

None of the reasons listed above matters UNLESS YOU ARE ALSO showing as current owner in the property deed records. This is because actual title to property is seen as being separate from the property tax account, separate from the mortgage loan, and separate from actual possession of the property.

If you aren’t sure whether you are the owner of record, check with your local county clerk. This will help avoid a situation where you pay thousands of dollars in taxes, maintenance, and mortgage payments, to later find that you are not the owner.

If you believe you should be showing as owner and are not, there are things that can be done to correct the situation. A lawyer can help you draft and file the proper deed documents, and/or help you clear inherited, court awarded, or other property into your name. This will keep the chain-of-title clear and put title into your name as owner of record.

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