Legalese — Quit Claim Deeds

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In my experience, most people have some idea of what a “quit claim deed” is, although they may not know exactly what it does.  In a simple way, a quit claim deed gives your ownership of real property to someone else.  That’s why it’s called a “quit claim” deed – it is a deed (which is a document that transfers ownership of land/real estate) in which you “quit” having a “claim” on the property.  (Many people also seem to think it is called a “quick” claim deed.  It isn’t, although as legal transactions go, it can be done relatively quickly.)

Now that we know what it means, what *doesn’t* it mean?

I see a variation on this scenario a lot: there is a married couple who owns a house together.  Let’s say, to perpetuate a stereotype, that the husband is very controlling. The husband makes his wife sign a quit claim deed which says that he is the sole owner of the house. The husband then thinks that when he files for divorce three weeks later, that since his name is the only name on the house, and the wife ‘gave’ her half of the house to him, that the house isn’t marital property.  In Georgia, this isn’t true at all. The property is still ‘marital’ no matter whose name it is titled in.

Liens are another source of misunderstanding. If someone files a lien against your house – say a roofing contractor who says you didn’t pay him – you can’t then quit claim your interest in the house to your mother in order to get out from under the lien. This is because you can only transfer to your mother that which you own. Your ownership of the house is subject to the lien, so the lien is still attached to the house.  Unless, of course, the lien is against your interest in the house (as opposed to just the house itself), in which case you can’t transfer the portion of the house that is subject to the lien, because you don’t own that part outright.

A mortgage is likewise a lien. If your house is worth, say, $200,000.00, and you have a $175,000.00 mortgage, you can sign as many quit claim deeds as you like, but you will still have to be responsible for that mortgage, since you can only transfer what you own outright. So the person to whom you quit claimed the house only owns $25,000.00 worth of it, plus the few extra dollars each month that you pay down the mortgage.

A warranty deed is something else. With a warranty deed, you are “warranting” that you have the ability to transfer what you say you are transferring.  If it turns out later that there was a lien or you had previously written a deed to someone else or that you never really owned it in the first place, you are on the hook to pay the person who bought your property back.

Which means this: I can give you a quit claim deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, and it wouldn’t have much effect on anything. I am simply giving you what interest I have in the Brooklyn Bridge, which is zero interest. (Of course, if I lied to you about owning the bridge, there could be charges of fraud, but that’s a different column for a different day.) If I give you a warranty deed, then I am guaranteeing that I did in fact own it, and I’m on the hook.

As always, this can be confusing and very technical, even though it seems simple.   (Want my property? Here – here’s a piece of paper that says you own it.)  If you are making a real estate transaction, contact a lawyer to make sure that you are doing the right kind of deed and transferring the right kind of interest.  Trust me – it will cost more down the road to fix what you’ve messed up than it will to get it right in the first place.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only. No lawyer can advise you about your case without hearing the particulars about your situation.

About Lori Duff 352 Articles
Lori is the author of the bestselling collection of humor essays, "Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza" currently available exclusively on Amazon. In order to finance her writing habit, she is a practicing lawyer with Jones & Duff, LLC. She is married to Mike Duff, who is a retired DeKalb County Public Safety Officer, and has two amazing children who make cameo embarrassing appearances in her blog posts and who attend Walton County Public Schools. Her legal column, "Legalese", is meant to de-mystify and humanize the Court system. When asked about her writing, Lori says, "Life is too short not to laugh at every available opportunity. My goal is to make myself laugh -- and hopefully you will laugh along with me."

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