Deeds 101: The Basics of Deeds Under Virginia Law

Under Virginia law, a deed is a written document that shows an intent to convey real property. There is no specific form that a deed must take, but Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-300 provides an example establishing that a valid deed must, minimally:

(1) identify the parties to the conveyance;

(2) state the consideration for the conveyance;

(3) include granting language;

(4) describe the property or interest conveyed with sufficient specificity; and

(5) be signed by the Grantor or Grantors.

The Parties to a Real Estate Conveyance

In a deed, the Grantor is the party who conveys, or gives away, his or her interest in real property and the Grantee is the party who receives the interest from the Grantor. The parties can be individuals or entities, including corporations, partnerships, or limited liability companies, but they must be “parties in being.” meaning, for example, that a conveyance involving a dead person is void. It is customary for parties to a deed to identify their marital status and to indicate whether a party has a survivorship interest based on a death since the last recorded deed.

Consideration for a Real Estate Conveyance

A valid deed must be supported by consideration. This consideration can involve an actual exchange of money or other items of value for a property interest. In a typical scenario involving actual consideration, the Buyer pays the Seller a specific sum of money in exchange for a house and the related property. Consideration does not, however, have to involve an actual exchange of money. Nominal consideration, often described as “love and affection and other good and valuable consideration,” can support a conveyance between individuals, typically family members who want to gift a property interest to their spouse or children.

Granting Language in a Real Estate Conveyance

In a Quitclaim Deed, in which the Grantor simply conveys whatever interest he or she may or may not have in the subject property without warranty, the Grantor “remises, releases, and forever quitclaims” the purported interest to the Grantee. In a General Warranty Deed, the Grantor provides assurances to the Grantee that he or she will defend the title against all claims in connection with the conveyance, whereas in a Special Warranty deed, the Grantor typically only provides assurances with respect to title defects that might have arisen during their ownership of the subject property. In General and Special Warranty Deeds, the Grantor typically “bargains, sells, grants, and conveys” his or her interest with whatever warranties might be appropriate.

Describing the Property or Interest Conveyed

To avoid competing claims for the same property, a deed must describe the property being conveyed with enough detail to clearly distinguish it from other properties. References to street addresses are generally insufficient for this purpose because the address can change over time and might not, therefore, accurately describe the property in the future. For properties that are in a subdivision, this description will often involve a reference to a lot and/or block, the subdivision name, and the subdivision’s city and state. For properties that are not in subdivisions, “metes and bounds” descriptions are often used, which locate a property within the public surveying system. Properties are also often described as the same property conveyed by a previous deed.

Signed by Grantor or Grantors

A valid deed must be signed by the Grantor or Grantors and not necessarily the Grantee. While this requirement appears self-explanatory, it can involve some complexity in the domestic relations context. For example, surviving spouses can claim an elective share of the decedent’s augmented estate, pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 64.2-304, et seq. making it a best practice for a Grantor’s spouse to sign any deed conveying an interest in real estate.

While the formal requirements to convey property are relatively straightforward, drafting and interpreting deeds can involve some complexity. Contact the attorneys at Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC in Fairfax at (703) 454-5147 if you need help understanding the legalities of your deed. You can schedule an initial consultation to begin.

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