Removing Someone from a Real Estate Deed

Image of two people at a desk with real estate deed discussing removing one of them from the deed.

Removing someone from a deed—is it possible? The short answer: No.

Misconceptions and Realities

It is a misconception that someone can be “removed” from the deed.

Nor can a co-owner simply take away another party’s interest in a property by executing a new deed without that other party.

In short, no one can be passively removed from a title.

Even if an owner “added” someone else to the real estate deed previously, the first owner cannot reconsider and take the second person off the deed.

Why?

  • By conveying an interest in property ownership, the first owner legally gave the second owner the same bundle of rights held by the first;
  • Therefore, that conveyance cannot later be undone—except with the additional owner’s consent.

If the co-owners agreed to be named on the title at the time of its conveyance, and no owner is willing to relinquish an interest in the property, then both are, and both remain, the property’s legitimate owners.

The only way to forcibly change the ownership status is through a legal action and the resultant court order. However, if an owner chooses to be removed from the deed, it is simply a matter of preparing a new deed transferring that owner’s interest in the property.

Quiet Title Actions

What if someone’s claim must be removed to correct the chain of title? The quiet title action is the appropriate legal action to clear up defects on a property title.

If some party is improperly named on the title, can the impropriety be demonstrated in court? If so, a court, as a result of the quiet title action, can clear the defects and legally establish a buyer’s rightful place in the chain of title.

For example, forgery, coercion, or some form of deed fraud might exist in a property’s conveyance history. If so, a successful quiet title action will clear up the title for good.

Divorce Decrees

In divorce, the court may order one ex-partner to execute a new deed that results in only one person retaining an interest in the home. A quitclaim deed is common. It releases (“quitclaims”) one partner’s property interest, leaving the whole interest to the other partner.

To keep the title free from ambiguity:

  • Both partners should sign the quitclaim deed. The spouse who is leaving the home is the grantor to the party who is receiving the entire interest.
  • The deed must release the whole property, and not just a half interest.
  • Following state law, the quitclaim deed should be accompanied by the divorce decree, or refer to it—including the court, case number, and the date of the decree.

In some states, divorcing spouses may use the quitclaim deed to convey property; in other states, a deed without warranty is standard. In either case, a form is used to relinquish a property interest without creating any new title liabilities. Divorcing parties must follow state-specific legal formats (such as Minnesota’s quitclaim and marital lien form).

An ex-spouse who is ordered to relinquish the property interest but fails to do so can be held in contempt of court, leading to fines, jail time, or both.

Note: A quitclaim only releases a person from the deed, not the mortgage liability. Therefore, refinancing or selling is common in divorces when the home has a mortgage.

Partition Actions 

A partition is a legal action that results in the court-ordered sale of a jointly owned property. When two or more owners disagree on how to use the property, any owner may file a partition action. Typically, the property is then sold to a new buyer. The sale proceeds must be divided among the owners according to their portion of ownership interests. In rare cases, a court may be able to order a property to be physically split up for the owners to keep their own proportionate sections of the real estate—but for obvious reasons, this is impossible to do for a house.

A partition may be needed, for example, when the adult children of a deceased parent receive joint ownership of a family property, and disagree on what to do with it. When a partnership—personal or commercial—breaks up, a similar need can arise to divide the ownership interest in a property that was jointly held.

No party has the right to stop a court-ordered sale of the property by physically remaining on it. Yet if the court-ordered sale is a public auction, rather than handled through a real estate listing, an owner who does not wish to give up the property can attempt to acquire the site through bidding on it.

A partition action may require a detailed accounting of owners’ contributions to maintenance, insurance, and taxes, as well as any income earned through the property.

The attorneys may try to effect a solution in which the property is sold and proceeds divided without a court order, according to a settlement agreement signed by all owners. Alternatively, one owner can buy out the others, resulting in the creation of a new deed reflecting the new ownership.

Each Case Is Unique

A clear title is essential when the time comes to finance or sell property. Attaining a clear title through legal action is a complicated process. In some cases, it involves obtaining loans to fund the buying out of co-owners, along with the standard appraisal, mortgage, and closing processes. 

The facts and the set of documentation connected with each case is unique. To protect your rights, speak with a real estate attorney licensed in your state when a dispute arises over co-owned property.