"What Is The Purpose Of Title Insurance"
What is "Title" and Why Do I Need to Insure It?"
When you buy a piece of land, you don't get handed the piece of land -- you are given title. Title is the owner's right to possess and use the property. How a home is titled can vary. For example, title might be held as tenants in common, as joint tenants, there may be a right of survivor-ship, or there might be a life estate in the home.
In addition, as you might imagine, there are many uses for land and rights can be given or sold for such uses. Someone other than the person you think of as owner of the property itself may own mineral, air, or utility rights on the property. A bank with a mortgage on the property owns an interest in the property, as does someone who has done work on the house and filed a lien against it. The government may also have liens against the property for unpaid taxes, and the city may have an easement giving it the right to string utility lines across the front yard.
What is Title Insurance?
Title insurance is a form of indemnity insurance predominantly found in the United States which insures against financial loss from defects in title to real property and from the invalidity or unenforceability of mortgage loans. The vast majority of title insurance policies are written on land within the United States. Unlike some land registration systems in countries outside the US, the US states' recorder of deeds generally do not guarantee indefeasible title to those recorded titles. Title insurance will defend against a lawsuit attacking the title, or reimburse the insured for the actual monetary loss incurred up to the dollar amount of insurance provided by the policy.
What Title Problems Can Arise?
Examples of problems that can come up after you purchase your property include fraudulent acts by prior owners -- such as forged documents that transfer no title to the real estate, forged mortgages, or forged satisfactions or releases of mortgages, impersonation of the true owners of the land by fraudulent persons, and/or instruments executed under expired or fabricated power of attorney. In addition, the deed may have been executed by someone who forgot to get divorced before he remarried, who forgot he got divorced and has inherited the property as the surviving spouse, or who forgot that he already sold the property to another purchaser who is now in possession of the property. Or perhaps you have acquired perfectly good title to a piece of property for which there is no legal access.
Other problems that may occur include execution of the deed by someone who is a minor or otherwise not competent, mistakes in public records or mistakes in recording the legal documents. Such mistakes can include incorrect indexing, errors and omissions in transcribing due to similarity in names, and failure to preserve original instruments.
In addition, defective acknowledgement due to lack of authority of notary; descriptions that appear to be, but are not, adequate; erroneous location of an ancient pipe or sewer line which does not follow the route of a granted easement; invalid, suppressed, undisclosed and erroneous interpretations of wills; previously undisclosed heirs with claims to the property; tax titles which are invalid because of irregularity in the proceeding; liens for unpaid estate, inheritance, income or gift taxes and/or special assessments which become liens can also impact on the use and enjoyment of your property.
Getting a Title Policy
The process of acquiring a title policy starts when you sign a purchase agreement with the seller. Your lawyer or closing agent will work with a title insurer to obtain a policy. In the U.S., five major title insurance underwriters dominate the industry, and the chances are excellent that your policy will come from one of them. The total cost of the policies will be around $1,000, and in some cases, the seller will pay the bill. The policy usually becomes active as of the closing date. Title insurance covers only existing problems. Any new problems that arise after issuance are not covered by title insurance policies.
One way to help ensure that you actually hold ownership of a property is to insure the title. Without it, the cost of defending a title claim would be quite high. In order to improve your chances against such claims, you should consider working with a real estate attorney experienced in such actions.