Q: Back in the late 1940s a land grant was quitclaimed by a person without the knowledge of the owner. Is this legal?
What can be done to get the property back in the hands of the family of the original family’s owner?
A: You’re talking about something that happened more than 50 years ago. Most states have statutes that would allow for the clearance of titleTitle refers to the ownershipOwnership is the absolute right to use, enjoy, and dispose of property. You own it! of a particular piece of property. issues long ago. If the transfer was a fraud in the late 1940s and the family has long ago left that property and it has been occupied by others that claim to be the owners, you are probably out of luck.
One of the first issues that may apply to your case is a legal concept called “adverse possessionPossession is being in control of a piece of property, and having the right to use it to the exclusion of all others..” In very general terms, adverse possession allows a person to effectively take someone’s property when the rightful owner allows the continued use of that property by the other party for many years.
The continued use must be without the rightful owner’s consent and the person that moves in must, in some cases, pay the real estateReal Estate is land and anything permanently attached to it, such as buildings and improvements. taxes. The possession of the land must be obvious to the world. The possession of the land must continue undisturbed for 21 years in many states (fewer in others). If the occupier of the land can prove all of the elements of adverse possession in the state in which the land is located, that person can sue to get title to the property.
Your case did not start with adverse possession but fraud. However, the fraud occurred years ago. Your state may have a statute of limitations that would prevent a person from prosecuting the fraud this long after it occurred.
The real issue is what has happened in the 50 years since the fraud occurred. If your family still occupies the land and has paid the property taxes, the person that committed the fraud might not be able to claim ownership of the land. His interests would conflict with your family’s.
On the other hand, if your family just recently discovered the fraud and the land has been occupied by others since the 1940s, you’re probably out of luck.
To unravel this mystery, start by talking to a title companyA Title Company is the corporation or company that insures the status of title on real estate (called title insuranceTitle Insurance is insurance that protects the lenderA Lender is a person, company, corporation, or entity that lends money for the purchase of real estate. and the property owner against losses arising from undisclosed defects or problems with the title to property.) at a closing, and may handle other aspects of the real estate closing. agentAn Agent is an individual who acts on behalf of a consumer. A real estate agent represents a buyer or a seller in the purchase or sale of a home. Licensed by the state, a real estate agent must work for a broker or a brokerage firm. An insurance agent helps a consumer purchase an insurance policy. Insurance agents are also licensed by the state. or officer near the property. Ask them what they believe the status of title is as of this date. The title company representative may tell you that their computer records show who the property owner is and that they have records that have insured the property as such for the last several decades. While the title company representative’s comments would not be the law in your case, it will give you a good indication as to the status of the title to the property.
If the status of title is somewhat murky and the title company doesn’t have a clear understanding about who owns title, your case may be stronger.
Once you have this information or if you need assistance in obtaining title company information, you should seek the assistance from an attorney with extensive knowledge of title issues and one that has litigated title issues previously.
Finally and unfortunately, if your family has had no contact with this land for so many years, your case may be a lost cause. One of the basic principles in real estate law is to assist people in clarifying murky issues in property ownership rights, particularly when they have not been cleared up over a 10 or 20 year period of time.
After the designated period of time, there has to be some certainty in land ownership and transfers and other claims are barred.
Dec. 5, 2005.