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When you buy a home, there are two different documents that are most important regarding the actual ownership of the property. The first is your deed and the second is your title. The terms are sometimes used synonymously with each other, but they’re different. If you’re buying a home, you may want to understand these differences.

There are also several ways to take title that can affect the way property is passed from you to someone else. The goal of this post is to bring you up to date on these distinctions.

What Is a Deed Versus a Title?

A deed and a title are two different items that both state your ownership rights on a property. However, there are differences between the two.

A deed is the actual physical document that you get on closing day and it says you own the property.

A title also provides proof of ownership, but this certificate also contains a physical description of the property. It will also contain any liens that exist on the property that might allow others to have a claim to the property in certain situations.

An example of a lien would be your mortgage. You may also have a lien from a contractor until work is paid off.

There’s also a concept known as chain of title. Chain of title is the complete ownership history of the property.

For example, the chain of title might show that the property passed from John Smith to Jane Doe to Mike Jacobs.

Ways to Hold Title

The way your title is worded (also referred to as “the manner in which title will be held”) can affect the way ownership is transferred and your rights to transfer ownership. The way you word your title may depend on both your marital status and your personal wishes. Let’s run through some scenarios.

Sole Ownership

if you’re looking to own property on your own, the following titles apply.

If you are a man or a woman who is not married, your title should read:

  • John Smith, a single man OR
  • Jane Johnson, a single woman

If you are a man or woman who has been married and is now legally divorced, your title should read:

  • John Smith, an unmarried man OR
  • Jane Johnson, an unmarried woman

If you are a married man or woman who wishes to acquire title as a sole and separate property, then your spouse must consent and relinquish all rights, title and interest in the property by deed or other written agreement. Your title should read:

  • John Smith, a married man, as his sole and separate property OR
  • Jane Johnson, a married woman, as her sole and separate property

Joint Tenancy

Looking to hold title jointly? Check out the options and examples below:

Community Property (applicable in certain states)

This form of ownership is when a property is acquired by a husband and wife during their marriage, other than by gift, bequest, devise and descent, or as the separate property of either. It is presumed to be held as community property. Under community property, either spouse has the right to dispose of his or her half interest in the property or will it to another party.

EXAMPLE: John Smith and Jane Smith, husband and wife, as community property

Community Property with Right of Survivorship (applicable in certain states)

This form of community property combines features from both joint tenancy and community property. In community property with right of survivorship, upon the death of one spouse, the survivor receives the deceased’s share (half) of the property. The property would automatically pass to the surviving spouse.

EXAMPLE: John Smith and Jane Smith, husband and wife, as community property with right of survivorship

Traditional Joint Tenancy

Joint and equal interests in land owned by two or more individuals created under a single instrument with the right of survivorship.

EXAMPLE: John Smith and Jane Smith, Husband and Wife, as Joint Tenants

Tenancy in Common

Under tenancy in common, the co-owners own undivided interest or equal rights to enjoy the property during their lives. This differs from joint tenancy because tenants in common hold title individually for their share of the property and can dispose or will their individual ownership. But unlike joint tenancy, there is no right of survivorship and no other tenant is entitled to receive the decedent’s share of the property. Instead, the property goes to the decedent’s heirs.

EXAMPLE: John Smith and Jane Johnson, as tenants in common

Trust

A living trust of real property holds legal and equitable title to the real estate. The trustee holds title for the trustor/beneficiary who retains all management rights and responsibilities.

EXAMPLE: John Smith, as Trustee of the John Smith Trust dated July 3, 2002

How you hold title to your real estate can affect the outcome of the sale of a property. It can also affect the taxes and fees associated with selling your home. For more information or assistance in determining the best way to hold title for your unique situation, contact your real estate attorney or tax advisor.

Check out this article for more common title issues. Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below!

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This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. What is the benefit to have “a married person as his sole and separate property” on a mortgage document if the individual is divorced? This was on several documents several months/years after we divorced and he never remarried?

    1. Hi C:

      If you’re divorced, the title technically shouldn’t say that he’s married. However, in this case, it may really not matter. By labeling the title that way, it means the property is his own. The one exception to this would probably be if you lived in a community property state and the property was acquired during the marriage. However, I’m not a lawyer, so if you need official advice, I recommend speaking to an attorney in your state.

  2. I am a widow and I am buying a house in ca I do not have a trust set up but plan on doing so, but will not have time before close of this escrow. I am not sure how to take Title? Just my name Sandra Leona Hamlon? Or? Sorry it is Hanlon. Spell Check is soon helpful in some cases lol. Just for information I have been widowed twice but this is the only time I have purchased property without a husbands name on a title. Do taxes differ by how you take title

    1. Hi Sandra:

      I don’t want to give you the wrong answer and this could be further complicated by the fact that you eventually want to put it in a trust. I’m going to get this to our client relations team who can get it to our title experts.

  3. My husband and I are legally separated in NC. He purchased a piece of land after separated and I had to be there to sign the deed. Then a couple months later he purchased a home…using quicken loans.. and he sent them a copy of our separation agreement… we are still legally married… but the deed reads, “an unmarried man”, and deed of trust reads, “a single man”. Should this be corrected?

    1. That’s kind of weird. Maybe if you had just gotten married in a community property state, it would matter. That’s the only thing I can think of.

  4. We married for 26 years In California we sold our property bought house in Texas the loan is in his name and the deed says his name a married man. What happens passes away what are my rights and what can I do make sure I can stay in the property if he that were to happen? And will the loan have to be redone?

    1. Hi Rachel:

      Texas is a community property state. I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know all the particulars of the law. However, you would have rights if he passed away. As a spouse, federal law stipulates that you can also take over the mortgage if he passes away and continue to live there. In terms of all your rights, I would make sure to speak to a local attorney.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  5. What does ” a married woman as her sole and separate property” mean in Arizona a community property state? If property was purchased before marriage and then the home was finalized after marriage, can it still be considered separate property in a community property state?

    1. Hi S:

      I’m not a lawyer and the community property laws do vary slightly from state to state, so I would recommend consulting someone that can go over this with you in your area. That said, if the sale was finalized after the marriage, it may very well be considered community property. If you have any doubts, I would say it’s worth talking to someone. There may also be ways to have it be your own even when you’re married. It would depend on local laws. I think your next step is just to talk to a local attorney.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  6. How should separate property belonging to one spouse which is held in a joint living trust in a community property state be titled?

    1. I am a widow and I am buying a house in ca I do not have a trust set up but plan on doing so, but will not have time before close of this escrow. I am not sure how to take Title? Just my name Sandra Leona Hamlon? Or?

  7. Can two friends specify their living trusts (instead of their names) as part of Tenancy in Common? For Example: “John Smith and Jane Smith as Trustees of the Smith Trust dated July 3, 2002, and Robert Parker and Susan Parker as Trustees of the Parker Trust dated Aug 3, 2002, as Tenants in Common”

    1. Hi Paul:

      I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m going to get this over to one of our friends at Title Source that might be able to give you more information.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  8. thanks the eights ways to hold title I’m buying a home I’m married I’m the only one on the loan I want my wife and 19 yr. old and 21yr. old son to be on title deed they put me as …married man as his sole and separate property ..did not even ask how I wanted it title they said I could change it after escrow so it would not be held up is this the norm for getting thru a loan with a home mom that is not on the loan but they said add wife later….I read somewhere a man and his wife went to notary and change the title to tenants by the entireties what does this mean my wife and I been together since the age of 17 yrs old we are now in our late 60’s happy and in love what is the best way to title a loan best for wife and 2 sons thanks for your time God Bless…..

    1. Hi Eddie:

      Title issues are just a bit complicated and I’m not the best person to talk about the process, but I am to put you in touch with the right folks. Someone will be reaching out.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

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