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I learned a lesson when I first started practicing estate planning law. Always, always, always run a title search on all client real property to make sure there are no problems.
Many people record deeds over time that supposedly change title to property. Quit claim deeds to ex-spouses, gifts to children, adding a new spouse to title, and other typical scenarios. Many clients come into my office with grant deeds that they proudly lay on my desk. In their minds, I know they believe they hold the source of truth as to how title is held.
My early, and nearly very bad, experience came when I relied upon a client’s deed purporting to gift his interest in a very valuable piece of California beach front property to his kids. I started to draft a new deed for one of the children to place their interest in a trust I was preparing for them. I needed the legal description of the property and the deed they provided me was difficult to read. I contacted a title company to pull the exact legal description of the property so I could complete the transfer of the client’s interest into their trust.
Low and behold, I quickly discovered that the father had already deeded his interest into his trust, and the subsequent deed to his kids was not valid. I was able to correct the problem, but I learned a very important lesson.
The lesson is this: IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO HAVE TITLE TO PROPERTY. YOU NEED TO HAVE INSURABLE TITLE. This means that if a title insurance company will not provide a title insurance policy, then you really have a problem that will likely hold up a sale somewhere down the road. Running a title profile will make sure you understand the chain of title, and if there are problems, you can address them immediately instead of having your heirs deal with it later.
Since then, I have always run title searches to make sure that I understand exactly how property is held so I can do the right thing for the client.