3 minute read

What is the Deed to a House & Why It Matters

You may have heard the term “deed to a house” - but what does it really mean? Trust & Will explains what a house deed is.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

If you’ve recently purchased a home, then you likely already know what a house deed is. However, as a prospective home buyer or someone who hasn’t bought a home recently, you might be a little rusty on what exactly the house deed represents, and how it’s different from your title. To complicate things further, not all house deeds are the same. 

This guide will answer the ever-important question, “What is a deed to a house?” It’ll provide the definition, explain how it’s different from a house title, and how you can obtain your house deed if you don’t know where it is. Last but not least, we’ll encourage you to incorporate your house deed into your estate plan if you haven’t already.

What is a deed to a house?

A deed to a house, also known as a property deed, is a legal document that proves who owns a property. Only this person, or persons, listed on the deed have the true right to sell or transfer the property, as well as take certain actions such as taking out a second mortgage. House deeds are also used to transfer ownership from a former owner (known as the grantor) to the new owner (the grantee.) 

Deeds are typically drawn up by real estate attorneys and must be notarized. A title search to ensure that the property in question is free of liens is also usually conducted before any real estate transaction. 

Once the process is complete, the deed is filed with the local county recorder’s office to prove the transfer and new ownership of the property. 

For a more robust definition of house deeds and how they work, be sure to check out our ‘house deed definition’ guide!

House deed vs. title - what’s the difference?

Once you know how to answer the question “what is a deed to a house,” the next question that often comes up is, “what’s the difference between a house deed and house title?” 

Both deeds and titles represent home ownership. Thus, the two terms are understandably conflated often. 

The key difference between the two is the matter of a physical document. If you recall, a deed is a legal document — it’s written and made official through documentation, notarization, and then filing it with the local county. A title simply refers to the concept of property ownership. In other words, a title is just the concept while the deed is the physical manifestation. Understanding the difference between titles and deeds is an important part of expanding your homeownership vocabulary. 

How do I get the deed to my house?

You may have a copy of your deed, or perhaps you can’t locate it. If you think you lost your deed, don’t panic. Luckily, the only place where you can obtain the true and accurate original is not in your home. Deeds are officially recorded at the local county office in which the property is located. More specifically, it is usually filed at the county register office. Note that the specific office name can differ by state and municipality. Variations include the register's office, county clerk, and county recorder, to name a few. 

Simply visit your respective local office and file your request for a copy of the deed. You may be required to fill out a form and pay a small fee (usually priced per page) for the copy. If you’re lucky, you may be able to conduct your deed search online, if your county office provides a web-based search portal.

Note that if you are still making mortgage payments on your house, then you are not yet the official title holder. Your mortgage lender has the rights to the title until your mortgage is paid off and you own the property free and clear. Once the mortgage is paid off, the mortgage company will transfer the title to you and a new deed is recorded.

Understanding where you are at in the process can help cut down any confusion. Our in-depth guide, ‘how to get the deed to your house’, is a great place to pick up more tips.

Make sure house deeds are a part of your estate plan

This guide provided a convenient explanation for the question that comes up often: “What is a deed to a house?” 

Now, you should be able to answer this question and sound like a pro. Further, you should also be able to explain the difference between a house deed and title, as well as how to obtain a deed to a house if needed.

Whether you need this information for yourself, or want to help out a friend who is new to the homebuying process, you’re all set!

Last but not least, we wanted to present the idea of incorporating your house deed as a part of your estate plan. This is something that all homeowners are urged to do. This is because a key aspect of estate planning is accounting for all the assets and property under your name, so that you can one day pass your legacy on to loved ones. Including your home should be a no-brainer. As you might recall, your house deed is the physical document that proves your property title, and is also an integral legal tool that allows you to transfer property. 

The question of how you plan to transfer that property to a loved one, and when, is another matter entirely. We can help you explore your options in our guide, ‘types of deeds to transfer ownership of real property.’ 

No matter what deed you plan to use, be sure to review and update your estate plan accordingly. If you don’t have an estate plan yet, buying a home or tackling matters of homeownership is a perfect reason to start one. We can help you with that! Trust & Will’s estate planning services make it easy for anyone to set up their estate plan so they can rest assured that their assets and property are protected. Even better, our services make it easy for you to routinely review and update your estate plan as needed. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our Learn Center or chat with a live member support representative!

Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.


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