Owning property is a major investment and a significant milestone for many individuals. However, potential title problems can arise, causing legal and financial complications that can derail the entire process. [1] These title issues often stem from errors in public records, missing heirs, illegal deeds, or undiscovered encumbrances related to property liens, probate, or title insurance coverage. [2]

Identifying and addressing these real estate title issues before completing a title transfer is crucial to protecting your investment and avoiding costly property disputes down the line. [3] In this article, we’ll explore the top five title defects examples, their causes, and practical strategies for how to resolve title issues.

Errors in Public Records

One common title issue buyers face when completing a title search process is an error in property records. Humans aren’t error-free, and a clerical error regarding your property title can have an effect on the deed and result in costs you may not have expected. [1]

Common Errors

An example of an error that could be filed in public records is a property description that may appear accurate but isn’t, like the square footage of the home or incorrect property specifics. [1] [2] Improperly filed legal documents, pending legal action, or unreleased mortgages mishandled by public records can also result in additional headaches for buyers unless these title issues at closing are resolved before closing. [1] [4]

Steps to Identify

A title search examines documents associated with the property, including judgments, assessments, taxes, and other records that may affect the clear title to identify mistakes in public records. [1] Comparing property-related documents side by side and noting the date of information updates can help spot deed errors, as property details are typically updated annually but not always simultaneously. [4]

Ways to Fix

Completely avoiding errors in public records is nearly impossible because buyers have no control over a property’s past or mistakes made during filing and recording. [1] However, an owner’s title insurance policy can provide title insurance protection for your legal ownership rights from errors and defects found in public records, potentially covering legal costs and certain losses resulting from a covered title defect. [1] Once identified, errors are usually fixed by recording a corrective deed that rectifies the specific issue and reaffirms the property transfer. [4]

Missing Heirs

Why It Happens

An executor has a duty to give notice to all beneficiaries and heirs of a probate case. [12] If an heir or beneficiary is missing, the executor must make a good-faith effort to locate them. [12] Missed heirs or beneficiaries are one of the most common title defects and eventual title claims. [7]

Detection Methods

An executor is required to identify all beneficiaries and heirs at the start of the probate process for notification. [12] If an heir is missing, the executor must act diligently by reasonably attempting to locate and contact them, such as publishing notice, contacting relatives, searching records, or hiring a private investigator. [10] [12]

Legal Solutions

State law may define reasonable steps for locating missing heirs, but the court has discretion over whether the executor satisfied their obligation. [12] The probate process may proceed without a missing heir if the court finds the executor made a good-faith effort to locate them. [12] The court may treat a missing heir as deceased and distribute their share accordingly or hold the inheritance in trust until they are found. [12] A quiet title action in New Jersey or other states may be necessary to resolve ownership disputes stemming from missing heirs.

Illegal Deeds

Types of Illegal Deeds

While the chain of title on a property may appear sound, it’s possible that a prior deed was made illegally. This could occur if the deed includes an undocumented immigrant, a minor, a person of unsound mind, or someone falsely claiming to be single when married. [13] In some cases, outright fraud occurs, such as an individual impersonating the seller or using forged documents to claim ownership. [14] [16] Forgeries are a serious issue that can cloud the title.

Impact on Ownership

Illegal deeds can have severe consequences for property ownership. If a previous deed was executed illegally, it may affect the enforceability of that deed and any subsequent transfers, potentially invalidating the current owner’s claim to the property. [13] Deed fraud can also enable criminals to steal a property’s equity by obtaining loans or selling the home without the rightful owner’s knowledge. [15]

Preventive Measures

To protect against illegal deeds, it’s crucial to thoroughly verify the identities of all parties involved in a real estate transaction. [15] Encouraging homeowners to regularly review public records and sign up for property alert services can help detect fraudulent activity early. [15] If illegal deed activity is suspected, promptly reporting it to authorities and consulting a real estate attorney is recommended to resolve title issues and protect one’s ownership rights. [17] A title company can also help identify and address illegal deeds during the title search process.

Undiscovered Liens

Non-Financial Claims

A Lien is a claim against a property made by a party who is not the property owner. [24] Not all forms of encumbrance are financial. For example, easements are non-financial encumbrances that give a person or organization the right to use another owner’s property for a specific limited purpose, such as a utility company accessing the property to service their equipment.

How to Identify

It’s crucial for buyers to be aware of any encumbrances or clouds before proceeding with a purchase, as these can influence the property’s value and ability to sell or refinance. [24] Encroachments, where someone interferes with a neighbor’s property by building over the property line or extending structures beyond legal boundaries, are another type of encumbrance typically discovered during a property survey. [21] [24] A title search examines public records to confirm the rightful owner and identify any outstanding claims or restrictions. [22] [24]

Resolution Steps

If encumbrances are found, the next step is to determine their impact on the transaction. [24] Buyers can work with an attorney to negotiate with lienholders or creditors to pay off debts and obtain encumbrance releases. [24] Purchase agreements may need renegotiation to include clauses requiring sellers to resolve existing encumbrances before closing. [24] In some cases, the only solution is a legal action to quiet title, establishing clear ownership and removing clouds on the title. [24]


Navigating the complexities of property ownership can be challenging, as potential title problems often lurk beneath the surface. From errors in public records to missing heirs, illegal deeds, and undiscovered encumbrances, these issues can jeopardize your investment and lead to costly disputes. Proactive measures, such as thorough title searches, verifying identities, and obtaining owner’s title insurance, can go a long way in mitigating these risks and protecting your rights as a property owner.

Ultimately, understanding the common title problems and their root causes is the first step towards prevention. By staying vigilant, working with professionals, and taking the necessary precautions, you can confidently navigate the real estate landscape and enjoy the benefits of property ownership without the looming threat of title defects. A well-informed and diligent approach can help you avoid the pitfalls and secure a smooth, stress-free experience throughout the property acquisition process.


[1] – https://blog.firstam.com/bid/65971/How-Errors-in-Public-Records-Can-Affect-Your-Home-s-Title
[2] – https://www.titleadvantage.com/mdocs/Error-Public-Records.pdf
[3] – https://www.proplogix.com/blog/4-smart-strategies-to-identify-errors-in-public-records/
[4] – https://www.rexera.com/blog/find-errors-in-public-property-records/
[5] – https://blog.firstam.com/bid/65971/How-Errors-in-Public-Records-Can-Affect-Your-Home-s-Title
[6] – https://www.proplogix.com/blog/how-do-i-correct-a-mistake-on-a-recorded-deed/
[7] – https://berlinpatten.com/how-probate-affects-title-rights-and-real-estate-closings/
[8] – https://www.thefund.com/resources/flarecs/blog/whose-land-is-it-anyway-heirs-property.aspx
[9] – https://www.justia.com/probate/probate-administration/the-duties-of-an-executor-of-an-estate/searching-for-missing-heirs-and-beneficiaries/
[10] – https://www.elderlawcolorado.com/blog/2023/04/locating-a-missing-heir-tips-for-executors/
[11] – https://www.calt.iastate.edu/article/problem-heirs-property
[12] – https://www.justia.com/probate/probate-administration/the-duties-of-an-executor-of-an-estate/searching-for-missing-heirs-and-beneficiaries/
[13] – https://www.firstam.com/ownership/10-common-title-problems
[14] – https://www.bankrate.com/real-estate/common-property-title-issues/
[15] – https://berlinpatten.com/understanding-the-dangers-of-deed-fraud/
[16] – https://www.bankrate.com/real-estate/common-property-title-issues/
[17] – https://quickdeeds.com/faq/how-to-prevent-deed-fraud
[18] – https://marinatitle.com/protect-yourself-against-deed-theft-in-florida/
[19] – https://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/nonfinancialasset.asp
[20] – https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/encumbrance.asp
[21] – https://heightstitle.com/2018/01/18/unknown-easements-undiscovered-encumbrances/
[22] – https://www.rocketmortgage.com/learn/encumbrance
[23] – https://lineartitleandescrow.com/2021/12/01/how-do-you-clear-a-title-defect/
[24] – https://mylandtrust.com/blog/title-encumbrances-and-how-to-solve-them/

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