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Does a Quitclaim Deed Give You Ownership? Understanding Ownership Transfer

Founding Member of Moshes Law, P.C.
During his years of practice, Yuriy has concentrated in litigation and real estate transactions as his areas of expertise.

In New York, a quitclaim deed is a legal document used to transfer ownership interest in real property. Unlike a warranty deed, a quitclaim deed offers no guarantees about the quality of the title or the grantor’s (seller’s) ownership rights. The grantor simply “quits” any claim they have on the property and transfers it “as is” to the grantee (buyer). 

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Quitclaim deeds are commonly used in New York for:

  • Transfers between family members: Gifting property to children, spouses, or other relatives.
  • Divorce settlements: Dividing property ownership as part of a divorce decree.
  • Correcting ownership errors: Fixing mistakes in titles where someone has an unintentional ownership stake.
  • Transferring property to a trust: Placing ownership under the control of a trust for estate planning purposes.
  • Adding a spouse to ownership: Granting ownership rights to a spouse who wasn’t previously on the deed.

Unlike a warranty deed, a quitclaim deed offers no assurances about the title’s quality. The grantor simply conveys whatever ownership stake they possess, even if it’s flawed. This means the grantee takes on all risks associated with the property’s title, including potential liens or encumbrances. It’s advisable to consult with a Quitclaim Deed Attorney to fully understand the implications before proceeding with such a transaction.

Different Types of Ownership Rights in New York

In New York, quitclaim deeds can transfer various types of ownership rights, including fee simple absolute, joint tenancy with right of survivorship, tenancy in common, tenancy by the entirety (for married couples), life estates, and community property rights (if applicable). 

Fee simple absolute grants the owner full rights to the property, while joint tenancy and tenancy in common allow multiple individuals to own the property with different rights of survivorship. Tenancy by the entirety is exclusive to married couples, offering joint ownership with survivorship rights. 

How Ownership is Transferred

  1. Preparation: The quitclaim deed document needs to be filled out accurately. This includes information like legal descriptions of the property, names of grantor (transferring owner) and grantee (receiving owner), and the date of transfer. In some cases, a lawyer might be involved to ensure everything is in order.
  2. Signing and notarization: Both grantor and grantee typically need to sign the deed in front of a notary public. The notary verifies the identities of the parties and ensures the signing is done willingly.
  3. Recording: Once signed, the deed needs to be submitted to the county recorder’s office for filing. This creates a public record of the ownership transfer. There’s usually a recording fee associated with this step.

How Quitclaim Deeds Transfer Interest

In essence, a quitclaim deed transfers whatever ownership interest the grantor (the person transferring ownership) has in a property to the grantee (the person receiving ownership). Unlike a warranty deed, which guarantees a clear title, a quitclaim deed offers no warranties regarding the property’s title.  The grantee simply receives whatever interest the grantor possesses, “warts and all.”

Here’s a breakdown of the transfer mechanism:

  • Grantor’s Interest: The grantor only conveys the rights they hold on the property. If the grantor has a clear title, the grantee inherits that clear title. However, if there are any liens, encumbrances, or title defects, these are also transferred to the grantee.
  • “As Is” Transfer: There’s no guarantee of the property’s condition or freedom from issues. The grantee assumes all risks associated with the title.

Limitations and Scope of Quitclaim Deeds

While convenient for specific situations, quitclaim deeds come with limitations:

  • Use Cases: They are best suited for transferring property between trusting parties, such as spouses, family members, or adding/removing an owner from a jointly held property.
  • Limited Protection: Due to the lack of title warranties, quitclaim deeds offer minimal protection for the grantee. A title search is highly recommended before accepting a quitclaim deed to assess potential title issues.
  • New York Specificity: In New York, quitclaim deeds offer a limited warranty under Section 13 of the Lien Law. This only guarantees that the grantor hasn’t created any liens against the property during their ownership.

Parties Involved in a Quitclaim Deed Transaction

  • Grantor: The person transferring their ownership interest in the property.
  • Grantee: The person receiving ownership interest in the property.
  • Attorney (Optional): While not mandatory in New York for quitclaim deeds between spouses, consulting a real estate attorney is highly recommended, especially for complex situations or when dealing with non-familial parties.

Does a Quitclaim Deed Confer Ownership?

In New York real estate, quitclaim deeds are a common tool for transferring property ownership. But unlike their name suggests, they don’t always guarantee clear ownership. Let’s clear up some misconceptions and explore the legal realities of quitclaim deeds in the Empire State.

Clearing Misconceptions

  • Myth: A quitclaim deed automatically grants full ownership.
  • Reality: In New York, a quitclaim deed only transfers the grantor’s (seller’s) interest in the property. This means the grantee (buyer) only receives the ownership rights the grantor possessed.

Understanding the Risks

Since a quitclaim deed offers minimal guarantees, there are potential risks for the grantee:

  • Unclear Title: The deed doesn’t ensure a clean title. If there are existing liens or encumbrances (claims against the property), they transfer to the new owner.
  • Limited Ownership: If the grantor didn’t have full ownership (shared ownership scenario), the grantee only acquires that share.

Situations Where a Quitclaim Deed May Not Transfer Ownership

  • Grantor Has No Ownership: If the grantor never legally owned the property, the quitclaim deed won’t transfer any rights.
  • Forgery: A forged quitclaim deed is invalid and won’t transfer ownership.

Conclusion

Quitclaim deeds serve a specific purpose in real estate transactions, but they do not guarantee clear ownership rights. Understanding the intricacies of these deeds and seeking professional guidance from Quitclaim Deed Attorney are essential steps in safeguarding property interests and minimizing risks. By unraveling the mysteries surrounding quitclaim deeds, individuals can make informed decisions when dealing with property transfers.

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