Why is a legal description for real estate so important?

The legal description for a house, cabin or other type of property is used to specifically identity where the property is located and its exact size and boundaries.  These descriptions are created through a survey using phrases, compass directions and numbers to let landowners know what real estate they own.

Legal descriptions are meant to be very precise.  They have to reflect exactly what is on file with the County Recorder in the County in which the real estate is located.  When real estate is sold or transferred, the County Recorder must have the exact legal description on file and in any new documents showing a change in ownership or what is called a transfer of title.

There are websites that allow people to access documents to sell or transfer title of real estate.  People use those websites at their own risk because there are several forms to choose from and choosing the wrong one could jeopardize a clean transfer of title.

A common mistake people make is using the legal description on their property tax statement.  Property tax statements abbreviate the property’s legal description so the document should not be relied upon in land sales or transfers.  Instead, the full and complete legal description can be obtained through the County Recorder where the real estate is located.  Most Counties charge a nominal fee to get the right legal description, but this is a small price to pay to get the transfer or sale done correctly.

Legal descriptions are used in three divorce documents – the divorce Decree, a quit claim deed and a Summary Real Estate Disposition Judgment.  All three documents allow for the real estate to be divided as the court orders.  All three documents must have the identical – and correct – legal description.  The documents should be done soon after a divorce is done.  Clients sometimes want to wait to do it for a variety of reasons but these documents require the cooperation of both of the former spouses.  A former spouse could die or later refuse to sign documents out of spite.

Instead, use the full and complete legal description right after a divorce is done to get real estate transferred quickly and easily.

If you have been divorced and you have questions about the real estate that was divided, contact experienced family law attorney Jessica L. Sterle at (218) 722-2655 to schedule a consultation.

Jessica Sterle