Untangling the Terminology of Deeds

This page describes the three kinds of deeds to convey real property, a general warranty deed, a statutory warranty deed, and a quitclaim deed. It discusses how each differs from the other two and when each might be appropriate.

When you and your spouse own a house in joint tenancy, and if you’re talking about conveying the house from one of you to another, you have three choices when it comes to the kind of deed you use, a general warranty deed, a statutory warranty deed, and a quitclaim deed. Think of them as having increasing levels of risk to the transferor (that’s the person doing the transferring) and decreasing levels of risk to the transferee (that’s the person receiving the property).

Quitclaim Deed

Statutory Warranty Deed

General Warranty Deed

Quitclaim Deed

A quitclaim deed offers the least assurance of title. It offers no warranty of any kind. It says, in effect, “I don’t know what kind of title I have, but whatever I have is yours.” If the transferor has nothing, then he or she transfers nothing, and the transferee will have nothing when the transfer is complete. On the other hand, if the transferor has complete title, then the transferee will receive that complete title in the transfer. Between spouses in divorce, a quitclaim deed is probably the most commonly used.

Statutory Warranty Deed

A statutory warranty deed offers a limited form of warranty. It says, in effect, “I don’t know what kind of title I have, but I promise that I have not transferred anything to anyone else. I’ll protect you from any claim made that I have made such a transfer, and I’ll compensate you if it costs you anything.” Saying as it does that the transferring party is warranting that he or she has not made an unauthorized transfer, it gives the transferee comfort without forcing the transferor to warrant circumstances he or she can’t control.

General Warranty Deed

A general warranty deed offers the most assurance of title. It says, in effect, “I promise you that I have good title to this property and that after this conveyance, you will have good title to it. If somebody says I didn’t transfer good title to you, I ‘warrant’ that I will defend you against any such claim. A general warranty deed is rarely used between spouses in divorce.

A final note:

Often lawyers insert a provision to convey a jointly owned house and call for an “appropriate deed.” I think this is a cop-out that simply delays the decision about what kind of deed. I can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t deal with the question now rather than later.

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