4 minute read

A Guide to Register of Deeds

What exactly is a register of deeds? What purpose do they serve? Trust & Will explains what you need to know about register of deeds.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

In this fast-paced society, we often take for granted the systems that protect us and thus allow us to function. This is especially true when we don’t necessarily need to rely on that system until something goes wrong. A register of deeds is the perfect example of this. The register of deeds is an important government function that stores all records about properties and property ownership. Keep reading to learn more about what a register of deeds is, what it does, and why you should know about it if you own property.

What is a register of deeds?

A register of deeds is a record of real estate property deeds and land titles. It is maintained and housed by a county government office, such as the county register or clerk. The register of deeds is stored in a centralized location where all legal documents are recorded. The term “register of deeds” can also sometimes refer to the government official who is responsible for maintaining and providing access to these deeds.

The deed register is used in tandem with a grantor-grantee index, which lists the owner of each deed plus any transfers of property. A register of deeds is helpful because it allows individuals and companies to gather information regarding a piece of property and its history.

What is the purpose of a register of deeds?

The purpose of a register of deeds is to provide a centralized authority on who owns which pieces of land. To explain this better, it’s helpful to first understand how a deed works.

A deed is a legal instrument and document that is used to transfer property between parties, and thus proves who owns the asset in question. The property can be land, a home that sits on the land, a vehicle, and other types of property. The person who holds the deed (the person listed on the document) has title rights to the property, which means they have the legal right to sell or transfer the title to someone else. 

In order for a deed to be valid, it must be signed, notarized, and then filed with the local county government. These deeds make up the register of deeds and are available for public viewing. However, some types of deeds and mortgage records may require administrative assistance to access. Note that deeds do not fall under the purview of the federal government. They are maintained at the state, county, and sometimes town levels.

Having access to a deed through the register is critical. Without having a centralized authority who manages deed records, chaos could ensue. For instance, if there is ever a dispute regarding property lines or ownership, either party can access public records to settle the dispute. In another example, what if you are setting up your Estate Plan, only to discover that you lost the deed to your house? Luckily, you can access your local register of deeds and order a certified copy.

What is included in a register of deeds? 

A register of deeds is represented by official government books that store information about property ownership. These are typically in the form of deeds to properties. However, other examples of documents could include information about:

  • Mortgages

  • Real estate contracts

  • Other types of property documents

Earlier, we mentioned how the term “Register of Deeds” can refer to a position in local government served by an official. These are typically elected positions that require a four-year term. In this case, here is an idea of what could be included in their job description:

  • Oversee public records, including real estate and property records

  • Record deeds

  • Issue marriage licenses

  • Recode military discharges

  • Issue birth and death certificates

The recorder or register office may also be responsible for filings of the Universal Commercial Code (UCC) financing statements on personal property. They may also maintain an archive of documents, including those filed at the very beginning of the government’s establishment. This allows members of the public to conduct in-depth searches on properties or people by accessing deeds, death, and birth certificates that date back to the earliest-available documents. 

When is a register of deeds used? 

The need for a register of deeds can arise when an individual or an entity (such as a company) needs access to key information regarding a piece of property. One common example of this need is when a real estate transaction is being conducted. For instance, both the buyer and the seller need to verify that a property title can be legally transferred between them. This discovery is typically conducted during the title search that is a part of the closing process. 

Here are other instances when a register of deeds might prove helpful:

  • A title search needs to be conducted outside of the closing process

  • An individual needs to check whether a property has any liens against it

  • You want to discover whether there are any defects in the property title

  • You need to settle a dispute regarding property ownership or property lines

Note that virtually all county register offices charge fees for copies of public records. Some types of records or documents might cost more while others cost less. For instance, a certified copy of a deed may cost a relatively higher flat fee while other types of documents are assessed at a per-page fee. Fees typically aren’t too costly, unless you are printing a large volume of pages or documents. It’s recommended that you find out the fees you must pay through your local county website. 

What happens if you don’t register a deed? 

Registering your deed with your local recorder is of paramount importance. In the absence of a properly-recorded deed, a property owner can eventually face a slew of problems. For instance, they could encounter a dispute over the chain of title. This is a concept referring to the historic changes in ownership of a property over time that goes all the way back to the very first owner. If you fail to register your deed, then you will break the chain of title. This can put you at risk of legal disputes.

Failing to register your deed could also put you at risk of property tax disputes, issues regarding property lines and boundaries, as well as delays and loss of any profits you could make off of your property. If you decide to sell your property without a properly-recorded deed, you will encounter delays and problems.

A register of deeds refers to a county government’s collection of property records, which is mostly made up of real estate deeds. However, the register can also include information about mortgages, property taxes, and other property-related documents. The term can also refer to the appointed office filled by an elected official. Their responsibilities often include recording deeds and maintaining government records and archives that are made available to the public. 

Public records maintained by a government is necessary because it can help settle disputes. Further, it allows individuals and companies to access important information that may not be available to them otherwise. For instance, what if you discover that you lost the deed to the house? Luckily, you wouldn’t need to fret too much because you know that you can order a copy through your local register. 

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