Quit Claim Deeds May Convey Real Estate Even if Inaccurate, But at What Cost?

So what happens if someone deeds real estate to another person, but makes a mistake in the deed? If the proper language is not used in a deed, can it still be used to convey real estate?  The answer is:  Maybe.  A Deed may be black and white on its face, but the interpretation of the deed can be far from black and white.

Per statute, quit claim deeds are required to include the legal description of the property conveyed. 765 ILCS 5/10 (West 2014). But back in 1935, the Illinois court determined that even if there is some uncertainty, a deed should not be declared void so long as “it is possible, by any reasonable rules of construction, to ascertain from the description, aided by extrinsic evidence, what property it is intended to convey.” Brunotte v. DeWitt, 360 Ill. 518, 528 (1935).  How do we reconcile the statute with this ruling?

Well, the Illinois appellate court reconciled these two things just last year. The case, Reverse Mortgage Solutions, Inc. v. Rehman, 2017 IL App (1st) 161035 (June 6, 2017) Cook Co., 2d Div., was actually quite interesting. A married couple bought a home in Chicago in 1961. In 1979, the husband quit claimed his interest in the house to his wife. The deed was improperly drafted but did reference their home, even though it had an inadequate legal description. The wife died in 2003. In 2006, the husband mortgaged the house. He died in 2011.

The bank then started the foreclosure process. The couple’s daughter decided to fight the foreclosure on the grounds that her father was not in title to the home and could not have mortgaged it. The bank countered that the 1979 deed was inadequate and should therefore be null, which would mean the husband had never quit claimed his interest to his wife. However, the trial court held that the 1979 deed was, in fact, effective.

On appeal, the court found that despite the defects in the deed, the deed was not void on grounds of uncertainty. The court believed that the legal description was sufficient. While Reverse Mortgage Solutions, Inc. v. Rehman involved other issues as well, such as what portion of the home the husband may have inherited when his wife died, for purposes of our discussion here the focus is solely on the quit claim deed.

In practice, I see defective quit claim deeds with surprising frequency. They are typically drafted using either the drafter’s best guesswork or best online research skills. As someone trying to draft your own quit claim deed to save a few hundred bucks, you may be comforted to know that as long as the extrinsic evidence supports the transfer and as long it is reasonably possible to ascertain what property you intended to convey and to whom, the Illinois courts have got your back.

I, on the other hand, feel you should not be comforted by this news. Why? It increases the possibility that the layman will draft his own deed improperly, which in turn, will end up costing a lot more in the long run. After all, what does a properly drafted and recorded quit claim deed cost? A couple hundred bucks? If you draft your own deed, do it wrong, and then you or your family have to fight someone over it in court years later, it could cost many, many thousands of dollars. It’s much better, and cheaper, to do it right the first time around.