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Legal Description of Property

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A legal description of a property is a written description of the real estate sufficient to identify it as distinct from other properties in the United States. It usually represents the real property’s precise location and measurement. Legal descriptions are used when transferring title because they are more accurate while a specific address is often used to locate a particular property. A proper legal description is always required in mortgages, deeds, and any other legal documents.

Note: To learn more about the legal description of properties, refer to this video.

Steps to Add a Legal Description of Property

It is best to get the legal description from the most recent deed to the respective property when preparing a new deed to real estate. The prior deed is an important source that provides legal safeguards to the properties. Here is how to add the legal description:

  1. Add a Clear Chain of Title. The most important reason to use a legal description of the property is to ensure that the property being transferred is the same as the property that was earlier received. The legal description from the previous deed also ensures consistency in the conveyance of the respective property. This further helps maintain a clear chain of titles. This consistency avoids any disputes and other potential title issues that may arise because of discrepancies in property descriptions.
  2. Ensure Consistency and Specificity. A legal description of properties is designed to identify a specific parcel of land uniquely. This is regardless of any changes in the respective street names, addresses, and property boundaries. In contrast, property addresses and tax identification numbers may need to provide more detail. It means individuals cannot distinguish a particular property from neighboring properties to define its boundaries.
  3. Fulfill Legal Requirements. Several jurisdictions require proper legal descriptions of deeds, properties, and other legal documents. Property addresses and tax identification numbers will never be enough to satisfy this particular requirement, which could result in the respective document being deemed unenforceable or invalid.
  4. Analyze Reliability. Legal descriptions of properties are usually prepared by professionals, such as surveyors or attorneys. These people have the expertise to accurately describe a property’s boundaries. This process ensures that the respective descriptions are reliable and better than those based on addresses or other tax identification numbers.

Steps to Locate a Legal Description of Property

The best place to find the legal description of the property is usually the most recent deed to the same. This is the same deed that conveyed the respective property to the current owner. The legal description is contained in the body of the particular deed. Here is how people can locate the legal description of the property:

  1. Check the Words of the Introduction. Words of introduction usually precede legal descriptions of properties. This particular language further indicates that the legal description of the same is about to begin.
  2. Have a Double-indented, Single-line Font. The legal description or property is often set in a double-indented, single-line font. It is further set in boldface to set it apart from the rest of the deed.
  3. Add Exhibits to the Deed. Sometimes, the legal description of the property is attached as an exhibit to the respective deed. The body of the same deed will reference the attached legal description of the property. For example, the body of the respective deed may refer to the property as “… the property described on the Exhibit ‘A’ attached hereto.” This will be attached to the respective deed and contain the legal description.

Note: To learn more about locating the legal description of the property, watch this video.

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Types of Legal Description of Properties

The type of legal description of properties people find on a real estate document often depends on various factors. This includes the measuring method, the location, and the respective type of property. Meanwhile, the common types include:

  • Metes and Bounds: This particular method was used by colonial settlers in New England and is among the oldest of the three methods. This method was also used along the East Coast of the United States. “Metes” means direction and distance. In contrast, “bounds” refers to fixed points like natural landmarks or artificial monuments. The description reflects different kinds of rudimentary tools that can measure the land at the time. References to rocks, bridges, trees, rivers, and other bodies of water are usually given here.
  • Rectangular Survey System: People started using this legal description method in the United States in 1785. It aims to replace all the less accurate metes and bounds methods by standardizing surveying methods. This particular system is based on a grid of uniform squares or rectangles. This usually involves the longitude (north and south) and the latitude (east and west) lines. However, the rectangular survey system does not work well with lots shaped irregularly. That is why people use metes and bounds or lot and block descriptions in conjunction with this specific system. Its basic elements include:
    • Meridian: The lines of the grid that run north and south.
    • Parallel: The lines of the grid that run east and west.
    • Range: The north-to-south area situated between two meridians.
    • Tier: The east-to-west area situated between two parallels.
    • Township: An area between two meridians and two parallels that creates a square.
    • Sections: A township broken up into 36 squares which measures one mile on each side.
    • Subsections: The division of sections into ½, 1/4, ⅛, 1/16, and so on.
  • Plat or Lot and Block Method: This is another legal description method used in commercial areas, modern planned residential communities, and industrial subdivisions. It involves subdividing tracts of land into blocks and then into lots. There is a permanent reference monument in this method. It is also called the control point. It works with each plot that help determine the specific property’s location. The surveyor keeps a record of the location and its size related to lots and blocks. Later, this is incorporated into the specific survey or subdivision map. It is also recorded in the jurisdiction where the particular subdivision is located. Platted legal descriptions are considered to be more efficient and reliable than other types. This is because they rarely require a new survey.

Key Terms for a Legal Description of Property

  • Deed: A signed legal document that usually transfers the title of a particular asset to a new holder. It also grants them the privilege of ownership.
  • Easement: A right granted to a particular entity to use a piece of property that belongs to a separate individual or entity for some purpose.
  • Abatement: The state of the act of decreasing or being diminished in terms of suppression or termination.
  • Carpet Area: An area of a flat or apartment that a particular individual could cover using the carpet.
  • Encumbrance: A claim against someone’s property by another party that is usually not the owner. This can impact the transferability of the respective property and restrict its free use until the specific encumbrance is lifted.

Final Thoughts on a Legal Description of Property

Individuals must know where to find and how to read a particular legal description of property. It is an important skill for anyone who buys the respective property. This proves to be helpful, especially for real estate investors. Interested individuals can protect their respective investments by requesting a new survey. They can also remove the same survey exception from a particular title policy when appropriate. People may turn to their title company or real estate attorney for help if they have any questions or concerns about a legal description. It will take the expertise of legal professionals, specifically lawyers, to resolve these kinds of errors.

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ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.


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