January 12, 2023
A few days ago, I read an amusing online article titled “11 commonly misused phrases that instantly reveal people’s ignorance”. The article’s point was that English is a tricky language, and that if people are not attentive they may end up using incorrect phrases, a.k.a. “malapropisms”, in the workplace that may have the unfortunate (and presumably undesired) effect of making the speaker seem ignorant.
Examples given in the article include saying “for all intensive purposes” instead of the correct “for all intents and purposes”, or saying “supposably”, which isn’t even a word, in place of the actual word, “supposedly”.
That article reminded me that malapropisms also frequently arise in the use of legal words and phrases – not only by clients, but sometimes also by practicing attorneys. One such malapropism that immediately jumps to mind for me, because I frequently hear it in my practice of real estate law, is the term “quick claim deed”. There is no such thing. The correct term is “quitclaim deed”.
[The three word phrase “quit claim deed” is not correct, either. The single word “quitclaim” is a perfectly fine word that has been in use in the English language for over six centuries. It means, as a verb, to release or relinquish a legal claim [to something], and as a noun, the act effectuating any such release or relinquishment.]
There are some popular legal and business websites, which shall go unnamed here, that say that quitclaim deeds “can also be called” quit claim deeds and quick claim deeds. That’s like saying that the Broadway, television and film actress and singer Idina Menzel “can also be called” Adele Dazeem. [That’s for all you Oscars fans who recall John Travolta’s botched introduction of Menzel from a few years ago, when she was about to perform “Let It Go” from the animated film Frozen, which was then nominated for, and ended up winning the Oscar for, Best Original Song.]
I even have seen some websites that offer the apocryphal explanation that quitclaim deeds are commonly called “quick claim” deeds because of the [supposably – er, supposedly] fast nature of the transactions for which they are to be used. That’s a load of nonsense. Make no mistake about it: if you go around calling a quitclaim deed a “quick claim” deed, you are committing a malapropism pretty much on the same level as saying you’d like to “nip [a potential problem] in the butt”.
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Since you’ve already read this far, I thought I would also add a few words about quitclaim deeds themselves. But first, I want to clarify that my remarks relate to the law in the State of Maryland, where I primarily practice. I realize that there are other U.S. states in which quitclaim deeds have an enhanced significance and acceptance, and are even prescribed by statute as a preferred instrument form for conveying real property.
In Maryland, there are three principal types of deeds that can be used for transferring a property outright (as opposed to conveyances for purposes of collateralizing/securing an obligation, such as a deed of trust or a mortgage): a general warranty deed, a special warranty deed, and a quitclaim deed.
A general warranty deed is one in which the grantor warrants to the grantee that title to the property is good, free and clear of any and all defects and encumbrances, for all time. If a defect in title is subsequently discovered, even one that may have arisen decades or even centuries before the grantor held title to the property, the grantor is held responsible for it. General warranty deeds are rarely used in Maryland. Even if a grantee demands a general warranty of title, the grantor typically refuses to give it.
A special warranty deed is one in which the grantor warrants to the grantee that the grantor has not caused or allowed an encumbrance or defect to be created on title to the property during the time of the grantor’s ownership, i.e., that the state of title being conveyed is just as good and just as free of defects and encumbrances as it was when the grantor acquired the property. A special warranty deed is the most commonly and customarily required, and granted, deed in Maryland real estate transactions.
A quitclaim deed, on the other hand, contains no warranty of title at all. It is essentially nothing more than a disclaimer, with the grantor saying to the grantee, in so many words: “I’m not asserting that I hold any right, title, or interest in and to this property whatsoever … but to the extent that it may be determined that I *do* have any such right, title, and interest in the property at the time of giving you this deed, I am forever releasing and relinquishing all claims to the same [i.e., quitclaiming any and all such right, title, and interest – there’s that word from the English lesson contained at the beginning of this article] in favor of you, the grantee.”
Stated differently, I could sign and deliver to you a perfectly valid quitclaim deed today to the Bay Bridge. In that deed, I would not be declaring that I am actually the owner of the Bay Bridge, only that whatever interest I do own in that property, if any (even if none whatsoever), I am forever, irrevocably, and publicly relinquishing to you. [Such a deed would present a research problem, however, as to whether it should be recorded in the Land Records of Anne Arundel County or Queen Anne's County!]
Given that a quitclaim deed is not, on its face, an affirmative conveyance of any actual interest in the subject property, it is appropriate for use only in narrow factual circumstances that may arise in certain transactions from time to time, in which there is a question as to whether a person holds, or may be deemed to have acquired (perhaps by process of law) any actual interest in the subject property at all, but the parties to the transaction want to make sure to rule out the possibility that any such interest held by such person, if it exists, will survive the conveyance of the property to the new owner.
Conversely, a quitclaim deed is not the appropriate form to use, in Maryland, at least, when the grantor is the owner of record, i.e., was the grantee (or one of the grantees, if more than one) named in a special or general warranty deed in the last recorded transfer of title to the property. Using a quitclaim deed in this scenario actually sends a signal that there is a possible defect in the title that arose during the grantor’s ownership of the property.
A good rule of thumb (again, in Maryland) is: if a party acquired title to property through a recorded special or general warranty deed – or if the party is the provable legal successor in interest to a person who acquired title to property through a recorded special or general warranty deed (for example, the Personal Representative of a decedent who acquired title through a special or general warranty deed) – they should use a special warranty deed (or, at minimum, a deed containing an affirmative conveyance of title, even if the special warranty paragraph is pared back, and in any event *NOT* a quitclaim deed form) to convey their interest to the next owner. The foregoing rule of thumb is not altered or affected in any way by:
If you have a need for a deed, or for any other assistance or counsel with a real property transaction, do not hesitate to call on the experts at RKW!
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