The Importance of a Legal Description in a Real Estate Deed

In a real estate deed, a legal description of the real property being conveyed is universally required to be present. The deed can also include a reference to the recorded map, survey, or deed containing the legal description in order to meet this requirement.

The legal description includes a written description of the property and other data that helps to identify it on a map. It can look a bit confusing, but that jumble of letters, numbers, and abbreviations is very integral to real estate transactions. A legal description can be used to help provide historical details for a specific piece of property and is also used in the assessment and taxation of real property. Namely, the accurate description of the property helps to ensure that the correct property is being transferred.

Legal descriptions need to serve as precise locaters of the land being conveyed. To this end, the description must be complete enough that it would enable a professional surveyor to locate and identify the land. An accurate legal description is essential for property transfers. This is especially pertinent for property that has changed hands numerous times in the past, but is just as essential for new construction. An incorrect description, unnoticed or ignored for years, can result in boundary disputes, title problems, the construction of improvements on the wrong property, and could permanently alter the boundary lines of a property.  A deed with an incomplete or incorrect legal description is not enforceable in a court of law.

The most common methods of writing a legal description are as follows:

  • metes and bounds: A method of describing land by the exterior boundaries using compass directions, monuments or landmarks where the directions change, and linear measurements of distance between these points.
  • lot and block: These are platted descriptions that are used when a rectangular survey or metes and bounds description has been further divided into platted lots.
  • U.S. public land survey system /rectangular survey: These are part of a system of rectangles that have been established to locate and identify parcel boundaries. To interpret a rectangular survey description, it is much easier if it is read backwards or from the largest unit to the smallest unit.

Rest assured, you do not have to write your own legal description. Licensed surveyors are usually responsible for this. The legal description for your property is written on the deed to your property. If you need or want to interpret another legal description, you need to first locate your town plat, which you can find at your county recorder’s office.

The type of description used depends on the system currently in place in the state and county where the property is located. Providing simply a street address and name is not advisable, though some counties may accept it if they have a standard system of numbering in place. The street address can be provided for informational purposes, but a metes and bounds or other such description is suggested as well.