What is a quitclaim deed?

It’s a quick means of transferring property between two parties

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When someone buys or sells a home, the purchase and transfer of the property is always facilitated by a real estate deed — a written document that legally transfers the ownership of a property from one party to another.

While there are several types of real estate deeds in use today, quitclaim deeds (sometimes misspelled as quit claim deeds) are used when the owner of a property effectively "quits" their claim on the home.

Key insights

  • Quitclaim deeds are used to transfer real estate from one person to another in specific situations, such as between family members or as part of a divorce settlement.
  • This type of deed offers the least possible protection for buyers since it makes no guarantees about potential legal claims or liens against the property.
  • Transferring ownership does not end the legal responsibility of the grantor in terms of mortgage liability and payments.
  • Quitclaim deed forms can be filled out with or without the help of an attorney.

Defining quitclaim deeds

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School says a quitclaim deed is a "document by which a grantor conveys his or her present interest, if any, in a given parcel of real property to a grantee without representing, covenanting, or warranting that the title is good."

To put that in simpler terms, Eric Bramlett of Bramlett Residential in Austin, Texas, explains that a quitclaim deed is like handing over the keys to a home to another person and saying the property and everything in it is now theirs. The person quitting their claim is also saying they take no responsibility for title issues or legal claims against the property.

However, transferring ownership does not end the original owner’s legal responsibility in terms of mortgage liability and payments. If the mortgage is not paid off, there will also need to be a legal transfer of the mortgage.

» MORE: Mortgage vs. deed of trust

When to use a quitclaim deed

A quitclaim deed offers the least amount of protection for the person receiving the property. Transfer of ownership using a quitclaim deed is essentially considered "as is," so the homebuyer cannot even obtain title insurance in most cases.

For that reason, quitclaim deeds are usually not recommended. However, they can make sense in the following scenarios:

Transferring real estate without any guarantees
Colorado real estate professional Jennifer Spinelli of Watson Buys says a quitclaim deed can be used any time a grantor wants to transfer their interest in a property without making any warranties or promises about the title to the property.

"It is particularly useful if there is uncertainty as to whether the grantor even has valid rights of ownership, or if they do not wish to provide additional protection for the grantee," she said.

Real estate transfers between family members
Quitclaim deeds allow for the transfer of ownership with less paperwork and cost than in a traditional sale. As a result, quitclaim deeds are often used by family members transferring real estate between each other when an actual sale of the property isn't really necessary.
Transfers during real estate disputes
Spinelli said a quitclaim deed can be used to transfer ownership of a piece of property between family members who are in dispute over the title.

In such a scenario, the grantor would simply give up any claim they have to the property and transfer it to the grantee, without making any warranties or guarantees about its condition.

Real estate transfers during divorce or a new marriage
A quitclaim deed is often used in instances of divorce where real estate ownership needs to be transferred but not necessarily sold.

For instance, say you’re recently divorced and want to transfer your share of the family home to your ex-partner without any hassle. With a quitclaim deed, you could remove the house from your ownership and into the sole ownership of your ex, while minimizing the paperwork and costs involved.

Quitclaim deeds can also be used between married people in situations where one person is bringing real estate ownership to the new relationship.

How to file a quitclaim deed

Where you get a quitclaim deed form can vary based on the state you live in, but your county clerk's office is a good place to start, said Bramlett.

From there, the quitclaim deed form can be filled out by the property owner with or without the help of an attorney, and each state and county has a unique set of fees that must be paid to execute the transfer. Either way, the quitclaim deed form must be signed by interested parties and notarized before it can be used for the official transfer of ownership.

According to LegalZoom, the quitclaim deed form must include:

  • A legal description of the property
  • The county where it is located
  • The name of the person transferring the property (grantor)
  • The name of the person receiving the property (grantee)
  • The date of the property transfer
  • A record of any money exchanged in the transaction (if applicable)

It will then be filed with the local county recorder's office so that it becomes part of the public record.

"This allows potential buyers and lenders to easily identify who owns the property and any financial obligations associated with it," said Spinelli.

Penalty for falsifying a quitclaim deed

Because quitclaim deeds are used for the transfer of something as expensive as real estate, it's not surprising that fraud can take place before or during these transactions.

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance notes that quitclaim deeds are often used in instances of elder abuse against aging homeowners who may not realize they are signing away rights to their property. Many quitclaim deed scams also involve real estate transfers from deceased individuals and for homes that have been permanently or temporarily abandoned.

The penalties for forging or falsifying a quitclaim deed can vary depending on state laws and specific details about the fraud. Examples of state penalties include:

  • California: Falsifying a quitclaim deed can lead to substantial fines and up to three years in prison. An additional one to four years in prison can apply if the victim of the crime sustains losses of more than $65,000, and an additional one to five years can be added to the sentence in instances of losses of $100,000 or more or when someone is convicted of two or more felony-level fraud charges at the same time.
  • Florida: Forgery of a house deed, checks, wills and other documents is considered a third-degree felony. Penalties can include up to five years in prison, up to $5,000 in fines and five years of probation.
  • Michigan: Penalties for falsifying a property deed can include conviction of a felony offense and imprisonment up to 14 years.

» MORE: How to avoid mortgage refinance scams

Other types of deeds

There are three main types of deeds used for the transfer of real estate ownership, including the quitclaim deed. Here are the other two:

General warranty deed

A general warranty deed is used to transfer real estate property ownership from one party to another with the most amount of protection for buyers already built in. That's because general warranty deeds make a promise to the buyer that the seller of a home owns the property without any liens or encumbrances in place.

A general warranty deed also promises that, if liens or creditor's claims are found in the future, the seller will financially compensate the buyer for them.

Special warranty deed

A special warranty deed is more robust than a quitclaim deed but offers less protection for buyers than the general warranty deed. This type of deed promises no title issues or liens on the property while in the possession of the current owner, but it makes no guarantees about title issues or claims that came into existence before they owned it.

» MORE: Warranty deed vs quitclaim deed

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    Where can I get a quitclaim deed form?

    Quitclaim deed forms are typically found in the county clerk's office where the property is located.

    Does a quitclaim deed give you ownership?

    A quitclaim deed transfers ownership of real estate from one person to another, so being on the receiving end of this transfer does give a person ownership.

    How long is a quitclaim deed good for?

    Quitclaim deeds do not expire, and in fact they permanently transfer the ownership of real estate from one person to another until another transfer is made in the future. That said, quitclaim deed forms must be accurately filled out and filed with the county recorder where the property is located in order for the transfer to be official.

    Bottom line

    Using a quitclaim deed to transfer real estate ownership only makes sense in certain situations, such as real estate transfers between family members and instances of divorce or marriage.

    With that in mind, buyers should be cautious about accepting a quitclaim deed for real estate transfers. In every other scenario, a general warranty deed gives buyers the optimal amount of protection they need against future claims against their home.

    Article sources
    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, " Quitclaim deed ." Accessed Aug. 27, 2023.
    2. LegalZoom, " What is a quitclaim deed, and when to use a quitclaim deed? " Accessed Aug. 27, 2023.
    3. Legal Templates, " Indiana Quitclaim Deed ." Accessed Aug. 27, 2023.
    4. U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, " Legal Issues Related to Elder Abuse ." Accessed Aug. 27, 2023.
    5. Dayton 24/7 News. " Quitclaim deed scams: How to protect your real estate from being stolen ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    6. Michigan Legislature, " The Michigan Penal Code ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    7. Rice Law Firm, " The Penalties of Forgery in Florida ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    8. Kraut Law Group, " California Penal Code Section 115 PC: Filing A False Document ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    9. LegalZoom, " How to use a general warranty deed ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    10. LegalZoom, " What is a special warranty deed and how is it used? " Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    11. Trust & Will, " Quitclaim Deeds - What You Need to Know ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    12. Armour Settlement Services, " Title Insurance and Quitclaim Deeds ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    13. Chase, " Your guide to quitclaim deeds ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
    14. Bramlett Residential Real Estate, " Homepage ." Accessed Aug. 28, 2023.
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