When using trusts in estate planning, a key element includes transferring the trustmaker’s real estate into the trust by recording a deed with the local recording authority. This step is crucial for ensuring that the trustee has the authority to manage and ultimately sell or transfer the property should the trustmaker become incapacitated or die.

If the trustmaker were to die without retitling the property in the trust’s name, the property may have to pass through the probate process even if the trustmaker had a will. Probate is a state court process that often involves significant expenditures of time and money and causes complications that many people would rather avoid.

However, an important question arises regarding the type of deed that should be used for transferring real property into the trust’s name. There are several types of deeds that can be used, one of which is a general warranty deed. The other types of deeds commonly used in the United States for transferring property are quitclaim deeds and special warranty deeds.

Although a full discussion of the differences among the types of deeds is not possible in an article of this length, the following information briefly explains each type of deed and why someone might want to use it when transferring ownership of real property.

Quitclaim Deeds

When someone (grantor) wants to transfer whatever property rights they have in a parcel of property, they can use a quitclaim deed. When an individual drafts and signs a quitclaim deed, they are, in effect, making a statement that whatever they own regarding the property described in the deed is now transferred to the grantee.

real estateWhat makes quitclaim deeds unique, however, is that the grantor who creates and signs the quitclaim deed is also putting the grantee on notice that they make no promises whatsoever that they actually own the property. If they do own the property, it is effectively transferred using the quitclaim deed after it has been recorded with the local recording authority. But if it turns out that the grantor did not, in fact, own the property, the grantee cannot bring a claim against the grantor unless they can prove that the grantor knowingly intended to defraud the grantee. However, if the grantor thought they owned the property but in fact did not own it because of some problem with the title, the grantee would have no ability to make the grantor legally liable for the error.

However, it is still common for individuals to use quitclaim deeds when transferring real property into a family trust for estate planning purposes. They (or their attorneys) reason that a quitclaim deed transfers any ownership interest that you may have in the property to your trust so that your trust can hold and manage it if you become incapacitated or die. Then, when the time comes to sell the property, the purchaser will, presumably, buy title insurance to cover any past defects in the title when they take the property.

General Warranty Deeds

Another frequently used option is a general warranty deed. The grantor can use this type of deed to assure the grantee that the property is free from any encumbrances such as a mortgage or lien and that the title is free from any defects. By signing the warranty deed, the grantor is promising that they will be liable to the grantee for any costs associated with such mistakes.

As you might imagine, most grantees in an arms-length purchase will require that the deed transferring the property to them be a general warranty deed. Without such warranties by the grantor, the real estate transaction is much riskier for the grantee.

insuranceIn addition, title insurance policies will frequently discontinue coverage for a parcel of property that has been transferred with a deed other than a warranty deed. Thus, if you want your title insurance policy to continue to provide coverage after you transfer real property to your trust, a business entity, or a family member, you will most likely need to use a general warranty deed or purchase a new title insurance policy to cover the transfer.

Special Warranty Deeds

Similar to general warranty deeds, a special warranty deed makes certain promises (or warranties) to the grantee that the property’s title has no liens or encumbrances or title defects that arose while the grantor owned the property. However, the grantor does not make any warranties that there are no title defects that arose before the grantor took possession or title to the property. Thus, a special warranty deed provides some additional protection for the grantee than a quitclaim deed, but it is not nearly as protective as a general warranty deed. And, as mentioned above, there is also a risk that using a special warranty deed to transfer your property into a trust, to a family member, or to a business entity that you fully or partially own could void the property’s title insurance policy.

The Bottom Line

yes or nowWhen determining which kind of deed you want to use to transfer your real property to your trust or a business entity, such as a limited liability company or a family limited partnership, you must consider a few things. First, how confident are you that no liens, encumbrances, or other title defects exist on your property? If you are very confident, a quitclaim deed may be appropriate, particularly if you intend the property to remain in the trust or business entity for a very long time and you do not anticipate a sale or transfer of the property to a third party who will require warranties about the title.

However, in general, the safest course of action for both grantor and grantee in any real estate transaction is to use a general warranty deed accompanied by an in-force title insurance policy that covers the grantee for any title defects that may have occurred before—or during—the grantor’s ownership.

If you have a piece of property that you need to transfer to your trust or other entity as part of your estate plan, we can assist you. Call us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. I may be reached at amanda.dorio@henlaw.com or by phone at 239-344-1362.