A quitclaim deed transfers real estate to a new owner. A properly completed and recorded quitclaim cannot be undone. Here’s why — and what to do next if there’s a problem with the transfer.
First, Why Is a Quitclaim Involved?
The typical quitclaim deed is used between people who know each other, who know the property, and who don’t need a title search.
This differs from the standard deed that changes hands in a real estate deal — usually a warranty deed. The warranty deed contains the assurance that the seller owns the property and has the right to transfer it. But a quitclaim just passes whatever rights a grantor has to a grantee. So, with a quitclaim, there are no assurances of a free and clear title. This is why regular real estate transactions between unrelated people rarely involve quitclaims.
A quitclaim can be used when:
- A person has a name change and wants the title transferred from the old name to a new legal name.
- A person transfers a house title to an ex-spouse upon divorce.
- A person marries, and decides to refinance the house as a couple, adding the new spouse’s name to a house title by transferring title from the homeowner’s name to both spouses.
- A person records the quitclaim as a “deed of release” to show that this person has no intention of making a claim on the title. This resolves uncertainty, leaving the property free and clear to the homeowner.
- A homeowner moves the title into their LLC.
- A homeowner quitclaims the house title into a living trust in order to bypass probate.
Exceptions: From time to time, a buyer gets a foreclosed house by quitclaim. And in some states (see Massachusetts and Rhode Island), a quitclaim does appear in a regular real estate transaction.
OK, What Could Be Wrong With a Quitclaim Deed?
Like most any valuable document, a quitclaim can be the product of fraud or forgery. Fraudsters have impersonated people or their personal representatives to get quitclaim deeds notarized and recorded. Then they’ve exploited the value of the homes.
And it happens: Relatives, caregivers, or advisers to elder homeowners have been known to fake signatures. Criminals might even notice unpaid taxes or abandoned vacation homes and target these properties for quitclaim transfers.
Often, the rightful owner doesn’t know what happened. It only becomes obvious when some future attempt to transfer the property falls apart on account of the recorded quitclaim. If too much time passes, a statute of limitations may bar legal action.
☛ Important: Plan ahead! Avoid a situation in which someone is asked to sign a quitclaim or a power of attorney when they no longer have the mental capacity to do so. To be valid, a document that assigns rights and responsibilities must be signed by someone who is of sound mind.
Some property owners sign over deeds under pressure. Caregivers, financial advisors, significant others, or family members could wrongly persuade the owner that signing over a deed is a good idea — or that the owner will regret not signing the deed over. In some cases, pressured homeowners lack the mental capacity to transfer the property, but are pressed to do it.
If you believe your or your loved one’s property has been wrongly taken, consult a local attorney as soon as you’re aware of a problem. You may need to call a law enforcement agency to make a report.
☛ When purchasing a home, a buyer should look into obtaining an enhanced title insurance policy that covers legal actions to address post-policy forgery or fraud.
If Both Parties Agree, Can They Reverse the Quitclaim?
If the parties are willing to solve a conflict over a quitclaim, what they need to do is create, notarize, and record a new quitclaim transferring the property back.
Here’s How to Create a New Quitclaim.
First, head off unintended consequences. The title holder should discuss the title transfer plan with a representative at the mortgage servicing firm, the title insurer, and the homeowner’s insurance company before recording a new deed.
Next, find your current quitclaim deed so you can copy the information that needs to appear on the new deed. Then draft a new quitclaim deed that’s valid in your home’s location. Check your work for any errors. The new deed’s information (spellings, numbers, etc.) must match the current deed’s information.
The grantor — that’s the person transferring rights over to another person — must sign the quitclaim, and acknowledge the document before a notary public, then have the deed recorded in the county where the house is. Expect a fee for recording and processing a new title, and for any applicable transfer tax.
After the recording takes place, anyone who looks through the county title records will see the new deed. The newly recorded document will look much like the prior quitclaim deed. But now, the new names and updated information will be recorded.
Now the official owner can obtain the new property title, to keep with their house documents.
Before Transferring a Deed, Have You Considered Your Taxes?
If you are creating or accepting a quitclaim, ask yourself a few key tax questions:
Is a Transfer Tax Due?
Both parties are responsible for any transfer tax that might be due to the state. Your state law defines the exceptions to the normal transfer tax charge. Certain family members do not have to pay a transfer tax. For example, Pennsylvania declares:
Some real estate transfers are exempt from realty transfer tax, including certain transfers among family members, to governmental units, between religious organizations, to shareholders or partners and to or from nonprofit industrial development agencies.
Pennsylvania also exempts gravesites and property passed to heirs after death. This is all typical, but state taxes do vary. You can always call your county recorder’s office to check on fees and transfer taxes.
Are Capital Gains Taxes Due?
Did the quitclaim transfer property through a sale? Then the person who’s selling might have realized a profit on the home. In that case, capital gains tax is due.
Speak with an accountant before selling your home to be sure you are getting the legal tax advantages that may be available to you. If there are tax breaks on the home through a homestead exemption, understand how that status could change after a transfer.
Think, too, about whether your tax-saving aims would be better achieved by passing the home along as an inheritance instead. And be sure you know what medical benefits you might claim and how this transfer could impact them.
☛ Does Uncle Sam need to hear from you in April? Find out if your quitclaim might be a taxable event.
Still Unsure? Know When to Ask a Local Expert.
Our regular readers will know that the quitclaim deed is the simplest way to transfer a title. The discussion above addresses a particular issue that some people might ask, and is intended for our reader’s general information. For case-specific questions or legal guidance, consult an attorney in your state to learn more about changing a house title.
Deeds.com: Using a Quitclaim Deed: Top 5 Reasons (Mar. 17, 2021).
Deeds.com: The Quitclaim Deed and Fraudulent Real Estate Transactions (Mar. 11, 2019).
And as linked.
Photo credits: RODNAE Productions and Nicola Barts, via Pexels.