Can I do a quiet title myself? Sure you can. You could also perform heart surgery on yourself…
The real question is whether you want to do a quiet title yourself.
Before jumping head over heals into a mound of mind-numbing paperwork, take a look at the following graphic. This gives you an idea of what you’re taking on. Keep in mind that this graphic represents an extremely simplified version of the quiet title process.
So, can I do a quiet title myself? Yes, if you are game for each of the above steps. Each step is discussed in more detail below.
But before delving into the details below, check out my other quiet title articles. Maybe your question is answered more directly by one of the following articles:
- What is a quiet title action?
- Before hiring a quiet title attorney, read this.
- How much does a quiet title action cost?
- Can I recover attorney fees in a quiet title lawsuit?
- Quiet title time frame: How long does it take?
If you’re still chomping at the bit to file your own quiet title, take stock of each phase described below.
PHASE I: RESEARCH
Most of the time, the need for a quiet title arises when a title company identifies a title defect. To get satisfactory title insurance, the title defect must be removed. For this reason, the primary title defect is usually identified for you. However, the title company does not provide detailed instructions explaining the title defect and how to cure it. Instead, they provide a few short sentences requiring you to “cure” the defect. For that reason, you must delve into the title abstract and county records to ensure that you fully understand the defect. During the research process, you must identify any and every party that could possibly claim rights in the property based on the title defect.
PHASE II: DRAFT A QUIET TITLE PETITION AND ANCILLARY PLEADINGS
The primary document required is a quiet title petition. Before drafting the petition, review state law to ensure that the content and structure of your petition satisfies all requirements. If you get something wrong in the petition, it can come back to haunt you later on. In addition to the petition, you must also prepare several “ancillary pleadings.” These may include summons, civil cover sheets, or notice of publication (if necessary). Often, you may seek to obtain waivers from certain defendants, which would require additional documents.
When drafting a quiet title petition, your goal is to tell a story about the chain of title. Begin at a point when title was clean. Describe how ownership was transferred from one person to the next, and clearly identify the title defect. After identifying the title defect, describe why that defect does not prevent you from acquiring ownership. In other words, acknowledge the problem, but convince the Court that it’s not actually a real problem. For example, “my great grandpa failed to probate this property, but everyone knows that it passed down to me. Therefore, the presence of a technical title defect should not prevent me from acquiring marketable title.” Obviously, you will use more formal language in a quiet title petition, but that’s the general idea. Look up some examples of quiet title petitions prepared by attorneys.
PHASE III: FILE AND SERVE
After drafting the initial pleadings, you must file the lawsuit and properly serve it on all defendants. If you fail to serve all defendants in accordance with law, the final judgment accomplishes nothing with respect to those defendants. Typically, named defendants can be served by certified mail or process server. However, if the defendants are deceased or cannot be found, you must serve them through publication. Publication has its own set of rules. Make sure to review your state’s applicable law.
PHASE IV: JUDGMENT
If you are dealing with a contested quiet title action, then the other party will answer your petition, launching you into the litigation process. However, most quiet title actions are not contested. So usually, no one answers the quiet title petition. In this case, calculate the deadline for each defendant’s answer. If no one files an answer, you can seek default judgement against all named defendants. To obtain default judgment, you must file a Motion for Default Judgment, along with any related pleadings. Typically, you need an Affidavit of Service or a similar pleading proving that the defendant was served and failed to answer. Sometimes, the motion for default judgment is combined with a motion for final judgment. Your state law determines the exact steps required.
PHASE V: ENFORCEMENT
A judgment does no good on its own. It must be put to good use. First, record the judgment with the county clerk. By recording the judgment, you make it a part of the land records. It becomes a link in the chain of title, just like a deed. In this way, the quiet title judgment repairs the chain of title by curing the title defect.
After recording the judgment, present it to the title company or to the adverse parties, as the case may be. This is the moment of truth. When you deliver the final judgment to the title company, hold your breath and hope that you did everything properly. If the title company rejects your judgment, then you must try again. Furthermore, if the title company knows that you handled the quiet title on your own, without an attorney, they might be especially picky about the final judgment. As an insurance company, they want to eliminate all possible risks.
Can I do a quiet title myself? Of course you can, but what’s your time worth?