The deed to a property is the most important document a property owner has. It describes the title and its associated rights while operating as the grant of the property itself. But not all deeds are created equal.
While grant deeds and quitclaim deeds are the most common tools for transferring title, they carry different warranties and convey fundamentally different property interests. These differences are immensely important, as they determine what rights a property owner actually has. The Underwood Law Firm encounters both types of deeds with frequency and has the familiarity and skill to help title holders understand their rights.
What is a deed?
A deed is a written instrument (a document) that conveys or transfers the title to real property; it is an executed conveyance and operates as a present transfer of real property. (Estate of Stevens (2002) 28 Cal.4th 665, 672.) Deeds are also considered written contracts and are therefore subject to the rules applicable to and governing contracts. (Civ. Code § 1040; Johnston v. City of Los Angeles (1917) 176 Cal. 479, 485.)
Once executed, a deed becomes the grant itself. Because of this, a valid deed is subject to numerous requirements.
In order for the deed to function as a legally-binding transfer of real property, it must first be in writing. It must also name both the person conveying and receiving the title. It must be signed by the grantor under the Statute of Frauds, delivered to the individual receiving the deed, and finally, accepted by the grantee. (see generally Civ. Code § 1091.) If any of these “essential elements are missing, the deed is ineffective to transfer title.” (In re Marriage of Wozniak (2020) 273 Cal.App.5th 120, 134.)
What is a grant deed?
A grant deed is a document most commonly used in California to transfer title to real property. (Miller & Starr 3 Cal. Real Estate § 8:5.) Authorized under Civil Code section 1092, the grant deed is called such because of the specific reference to the word “grant” in its operative words of conveyance. “The essential of such a deed has long been held to be the word ‘grant.’” (Klamath Land & Cattle Co. v. Roemer (1970) 12 Cal.App.3d 613, 618.)
When a grant deed is used as the method of conveyance, it “conveys a fee simple title to the grantee for all purposes.” (Shuster v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 505, 511.)
A fee simple estate is a legal way of saying that one holds all the property rights possible associated with a certain piece of land. “Ownership of title in fee simple absolute includes the rights, subject to governmental restrictions, of full use and disposition of the property.” (Carlson v. Assessment Appeals Bd. I (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 1004, 1013.) The title may endure forever, without limitation, and will pass to the grantee and their heirs.
The fee simple title is also alienable, devisable, and descendible. This means it can be sold at any time, transferred upon the owner’s death via will, or passed through the laws of intestate succession if no will is present.
What is a quitclaim deed?
A quitclaim deed is another means of transferring title to real property. “In this state, from the earliest times, quitclaim deeds have been in everyday use for the purpose of transferring title to land, and have been considered as effectual for that purpose as deeds of bargain and sale.” (City of Manhattan Beach v. Superior Court (1996) 13 Cal.4th 232, 239.)
Usually, quitclaim deeds are encountered when the title is publicly transferred. Deeds acquired at sheriff’s execution sales, judicial foreclosures, probate proceedings, and through all other court-appointed officers are usually interpreted to be quitclaim deeds. (see In re Backesto’s Estate (1923) 63 Cal.App. 265.)
Quitclaim deeds are unique in that they transfer whatever present right or interest the grantor has in the property and nothing more. (Manhattan, 13 Cal.4th at 239.) Generally, quitclaims will be denoted by the phrase, “release, remise, and quitclaim.” This is because the deed functions to “release” the grantor of their interest in the property. (Estate of Dayan (2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 29, 36.)
Does my deed carry an implied covenant?
When the title is conveyed through a grant deed, it comes with implied covenants. This means there a promises inherent to and within the deed itself unless otherwise denoted.
Under the California Civil Code section 1113, two covenants apply to any conveyance through a grant: (1) that prior to executing the present conveyance, the grantor did not themself convey the same estate, or any right, title, or interest, to anyone else other than the grantee, and (2) that such estate is, at the time of the present conveyance, free from all encumbrances suffered by the grantor.
A quitclaim deed, on the other hand, contains no such implied covenants. This is because a quitclaim transfers only the present rights and interests of the grantor. (Manhattan, 13 Cal.4th at 239.) They are used to release all interests that the grantor may have or may claim to have as described in the deed. (In re Marriage of Gioia (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 272, 281.)
Thus, a quitclaim may be valid even though the grantor does not have any estate or right to occupy the property.
Does the type of deed affect the after-acquired title?
Another key difference between quitclaims and grant deeds is how they treat after-acquired title.
Sometimes, a grant deed will purport to convey a greater title than is actually owned by the grantor. When this happens, if the grantor subsequently acquires the title that was supposed to have been conveyed, the title passes to the grantee as a matter of law. (Civ. Code § 1106; Miller & Starr, § 8:74.)
For example, “Julie” buys a farm from “Shawn.” Shawn executes a grant deed with Julie, which purports to grant her the whole farm in fee simple. Later on, Julie discovers that Shawn never had title to the whole farm and that her deed gives her rights to only half. When Shawn eventually acquires title to the other half of the farm, it automatically passes to Julie.
With a quitclaim deed, the after-acquired rule does not apply. This is because a quitclaim transfers only present interest. It does not and cannot convey after-acquired title subsequent to the execution of the quitclaim. (Johnson v. E-Z Ins. Brokerage, Inc. (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 86, 95.)
How can the Attorneys at Underwood Law Assist You?
Understanding how you hold title to your property is incredibly important. Based on the deed, you may have additional rights and obligations associated with your property. Additionally, the deed is the foremost document for many lawsuits involving property, be it a partition, adverse possession, foreclosure, breach of warranty, etc.
As each case is unique, property owners would be well-served to seek experienced counsel familiar with estates and property interests of all types. At Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. If you are concerned about whether you acquired the title you were promised, seeking to understand your property rights, or if you just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.