TITLE INSURANCE PRIMER

THE PUBLIC RECORDS

In the United States we maintain a public records system that varies from state to state. This system is controlled by "recording statutes." Simply, this means that in each and every county there is a public office where people may have their deeds or other written instruments relating to title recorded in permanent record books. The public records provide constructive notice to everyone as to the rights and interests of parties in a particular piece of property. There may be other rights and interests that are not disclosed by the public records (i.e., secret marriages, incompetency, unknown heirs, forgery, etc.). The public recording offices and their records constitute the most important source of information about title to real estate.

The offices in which these public records are maintained have different names in different states. In fact, there usually are several different offices in each and every county. One office may be for the recording of deeds, mortgages, and documents pertaining exclusively to land. Other offices in the same counties may contain the records of other matters affecting the title to the land. Lawsuits, marriages, divorces, insanity proceedings, and probate may all affect the title to the land. Still other offices may contain the records relating to taxes against the properties or, in some instances, recorded surveys.

In a very limited number of states the Registered Land System (also known as a "Torrens System") is used. Under this system, a court proceeding has been brought naming parties who have an adverse interest in the property. If everything in the proceeding is completed and handled properly, the plaintiff is said to have a good title as of that date. This title, however, is not guaranteed by the state. The Torrens System has been abandoned by most states primarily because the associated court proceedings complicated title transferring and delayed real estate sales proceedings caused extra and unnecessary expenses.