This article discusses common questions about Alaska deeds and transfers of Alaska real estate.
- Where are deeds filed in Alaska?
- Are any additional forms required when filing an Alaska deed?
- What is the cost to file an Alaska deed?
- What types of deeds are recognized in Alaska?
- What types of estate planning deeds does Alaska use?
- How can I transfer Alaska property to or from a living trust?
- What rules apply to deeds of Alaska property from corporations or LLCs?
- What other types of deeds are recognized in Alaska?
- What are the ways that multiple owners can hold title to Alaska real estate?
- What are the rules for spousal ownership of Alaska real estate?
Alaska’s jurisdictional system for recording land records differs from most states. Rather than handling deed-filing at the county or municipal level, the Recorder’s Office of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) administers public land records. The Alaska DNR has established 34 Recording Districts throughout the state, and deeds are recorded with the public offices assigned to the Recording Districts.1
An Alaska deed that transfers or otherwise relates to real estate must be recorded with the Recording District in which the property is located.2 Once recorded and indexed by the recorder, the deed becomes part of the public record and serves as constructive notice of the transfer to subsequent purchasers and creditors.3 The Alaska DNR provides an online interactive map to assist property owners in identifying the correct Recording District and office in which to file their deeds.
An Alaska deed must satisfy the formal requisites for recording—as defined by the state legislature—and the appropriate filing fee must accompany a deed submitted for recording.4 Alaska does not impose any transfer tax relating to real estate conveyances, and an affidavit of consideration or similar document is not required when recording an Alaska deed.
Alaska imposes a statutorily prescribed filing fee for recording of deeds.5 The fee amount is $20.00 for the first page and $5.00 for each additional page.6 If a deed includes more than six names or locations to be indexed, an additional indexing fee is due in the amount of $2.00 for each name or location over six.7 A deed that does not satisfy Alaska’s formatting specifications for recorded instruments can be filed for an additional nonstandard document fee of $50.00.8
In some states, an individual who records a deed transferring real estate must also pay a transfer tax—sometimes called a stamp tax—at the time of recording. Alaska does not impose a transfer or stamp tax, so recording costs and related fees are the only expense other than deed preparation costs.
A critical distinction between certain types of real estate deeds is the warranty of title provided by the person transferring title to the property (grantor). Like most states, Alaska recognizes three basic levels of warranty that a deed can provide.
- Quitclaim Deeds. An Alaska quitclaim deed form transfers all interest the current owner owns in real estate to the new owner, but the current owner provides no warranty of title.9 The new owner bears all risk that a defect will arise in the legal title to the transferred property. Quitclaim deed and quit claim deed are both acceptable spellings, but the term quick claim deed is incorrect, though often erroneously employed. Alaska’s legislature provides model language to serve as a starting point for quitclaim deeds at AK ST §34.15.040.
- Warranty Deeds. An Alaska warranty deed form transfers the property owner’s interest in the property to the new owner with full warranty of title. In some states, warranty deeds are called general warranty deeds or statutory warranty deeds. Under Alaska law, a property owner who signs a warranty deed guarantees:
- That the owner has lawful title to the property and may transfer valid title;
- That the property is free from liens other than as have been disclosed; and
- That no claimant will assert superior title to the property and—if an adverse claim emerges—the owner will defend the new owner’s title.10
Alaska offers model warranty deed language at AK ST §34.15.030.
- Special Warranty Deeds. An Alaska special warranty deed form is a compromise approach between quitclaim deeds and warranty deeds. When signing a special warranty deed, the current owner guarantees title is free of defects—but only as to defects arising during the period in which the current owner owned the property. The new owner bears the risk of title defects originating before the current owner owned the property. Depending on the jurisdiction, special warranty deeds are sometimes called limited warranty deeds, grant deeds, or covenant deeds. Alaska does not provide statutory model language for special warranty deeds, so phrasing that specifies a special warranty deed is based on common law and Alaska’s legal traditions and customs.
The names of the above-described Alaska deed forms indicate the level of warranty provided by the property’s current owner who signs the deed. Alaska also recognizes other real estate deeds defined not by the warranty but by the deed’s purpose. The above warranty-based names and the below purpose-based names are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For instance, a quitclaim deed might also be an life estate deed.
Alaska recognizes the following deed forms that are often used in or relate to estate planning:
- Life Estate Deeds. When a property owner executes a deed, Alaska law assumes that the owner intends to convey his or her entire interest in the property.11 However, an Alaska deed can expressly transfer a lesser interest in real estate, and a property owner can retain rights in transferred real estate. A life estate deed transfers title to a life tenant for life and designates a successor—called a remainderman or remainder beneficiary—to take title upon the life tenant’s death.12 A property owner can also reserve a life estate interest—in which case the current owner, or grantor, is also the life tenant—while conveying the remainder interest to a successor.
- Transfer on Death Deed. Also called a TOD deed or beneficiary deed, an Alaska transfer on death deed form allows a property owner to arrange for non-probate transfer of real estate to a beneficiary named in the deed—with the transfer only effective upon the current owner’s death. Unlike a life estate deed, an Alaska TOD deed does not limit the property owner’s rights in the property during life.13
Of these two deed types, transfer-on-death deeds are usually the best option. While life estate deeds provide a useful means of avoiding probate and controlling a property’s ultimate ownership, they have a significant downside: The original owner can no longer change his or her mind or deal with the property without involving the remainder beneficiaries. Alaska does not recognize enhanced life estate deeds—sometimes called lady bird deeds—which, where permitted, allow a property owner to retain a life estate and name a successor without sacrificing current rights in the property. As a practical matter, the Alaska transfer-on-death deed is the only deed form that allows the grantor to revoke the deed or name different beneficiaries without the consent or involvement of the beneficiaries.
Alaska law allows for flexibility when preparing deeds that convey Alaska real estate to or from a living trust or other trust. While some states require that deeds involving trusts expressly name the trust’s trustee, its beneficiaries, or both, Alaska law imposes no such requirement.14 Similarly, Alaska does not require deeds involving trusts to be accompanied by a recorded certificate of trust or comparable instrument identifying the settlor, trustee, beneficiaries, or characteristics of the trust.15 The trustee of a trust principally administered in Alaska must register the trust with an Alaska court.16
A deed conveying Alaska real estate from a corporation, LLC, or other entity must be signed by a lawful agent or attorney with authority to sign the deed on the entity’s behalf.17 While Alaska does not require the signature of any specific officer, Alaska’s notary statute suggests execution by:
- An officer or agent of a corporation;
- A member or manager of a limited liability company; or
- A partner or agent of a partnership, limited partnership, or limited liability partnership.18
Alaska also recognizes three other types of deeds that are used in specific contexts:
- Trustee’s Deed. Depending on the context, the term trustee’s deed can refer to a deed executed by a trustee relating to real estate owned by a trust.19 A trustee’s deed can also be a deed conveying title to a foreclosed property subject to a deed of trust.20 Like a mortgage, an Alaska deed of trust is a recorded instrument that provides notice that the property serves as security for an underlying loan obligation.21 The trustee named in an Alaska deed of trust has authority to conduct a nonjudicial sale of the real estate if the property owner defaults on payments secured by the deed of trust.22 Following the sale, the trustee issues a trustee’s deed transferring title to the foreclosed property to the purchaser, and the creditor applies the sale proceeds toward the balance of the loan.23
- Tax Deed. An Alaska tax deed conveys real estate sold in connection with a suit to recover delinquent property tax. The clerk or similar official of the relevant jurisdiction executes the deed conveying the delinquent owner’s interest in the property to a purchaser.24 Alaska does not impose statewide real estate taxes, and local taxes are limited to 24 of Alaska’s 165 incorporated municipalities.
- Executor’s Deed. An executor’s deed conveys real estate owned by a deceased person’s estate to a purchaser or other assignee.25 The estate’s executor or personal representative signs the deed on behalf of the estate. Alaska executor’s deeds are used within formal probate proceedings.
Because of the specific legal circumstances involved, tax deeds and executor’s deeds are usually prepared by the attorney that handles the estate or tax sale.
Alaska property owners may co-own property in different ways. Like most states, Alaska assumes that, when two or more persons who are not married to one another co-own real estate, they own the property as tenants in common.26 A deed conveying Alaska real estate to two or more unmarried owners creates a tenancy in common unless the deed expressly provides otherwise. Tenants in common own distinct fractional interests in a property and can transfer their interests separately during life or by will.
Unlike most other states, Alaska does not recognize the form of co-ownership called joint tenancy with right of survivorship—sometimes just joint tenancy.27 The right of survivorship is the essential difference between tenancy in common and joint tenancy. When property is co-owned with a right of survivorship, a deceased owner’s interest automatically vests with the surviving owner upon the deceased owner’s death. As noted, the Alaska legislature abolished joint tenancy except for co-ownership of personal property or co-ownerhsip of real estate by a married couple.28 When co-owners are married, though, they typically hold title in a tenancy by the entirety (a form of joint ownership with a right of survivorship only available to married spouses).29
Another alternative for multiple owners to hold title to Alaska real estate is to transfer the property to a trust.30 Using this approach, the persons with an interest in the real estate stand in the role of beneficiaries, and the trust’s trustee—who can also be a beneficiary—manages the property.31 Trusts come in a wide variety and are highly flexible—allowing transfer of real estate outside of probate and for owners to maintain long-term control of property through the trust.
Spouses can co-own Alaska real estate as tenants in common—in which case they each own separate fractional interests—or as tenants by the entirety with right of survivorship. Sometimes called tenancy in the entirety, tenancy by the entirety is similar to joint tenancy but only permitted for married spouses.32 Because tenancy by the entirety includes a right of survivorship, undivided ownership of co-owned property automatically vests with a surviving spouse upon the other spouse’s death, with no need for probate.
An Alaska deed that conveys real estate to a married couple and “recite[s] the marital status of the parties taking title” is assumed to create a tenancy by the entirety—unless the deed expressly provides otherwise.33 An Alaska deed intended to create a tenancy by the entirety typically conveys the property to the new owners as tenants by the entirety with right of survivorship.34 Alaska law authorizes a spouse who individually owns real estate to create a tenancy by the entirety by recording a deed conveying the property to both spouses as tenants by the entirety.35
Although Alaska is not strictly a community property state, Alaska law lets spouses opt to treat marital property as community property by creating a community property agreement or community property trust.36 When a couple chooses community property treatment, property and income acquired by either spouse during the marriage—subject to a few exceptions like gifts and inheritances—is deemed community property, with each spouse holding an undivided one-half interest in all community property.37
An advantage of owning Alaska real estate as community property is that the spouses can designate the real estate as survivorship community property.38 If property is survivorship community property, full ownership vests with the surviving spouse upon the other spouse’s death.39 Acquisition of title to community property through survivorship is considered nontestamentary, so community property that vests in a surviving spouse need not go through probate.40
Even if Alaska real estate is owned separately by only one spouse, Alaska homestead laws protect non-owner spouses by requiring spousal consent for transfers.41 When property transferred by deed is owned by a married person—and when the property serves as the spouses’ primary residence—the non-owner spouse must also sign the deed.42 Spousal consent is required for Alaska homesteads regardless of whether the other spouse has any ownership interest in the property.
- AK ST §40.17.010; 11 AAC 06.010(a).
- AK ST §40.17.020.
- AK ST §40.17.070; AK ST §40.17.080(a).
- AK ST §40.17.030(a); 11 AAC 06.040(a).
- AK ST §40.17.030(a).
- 11 AAC 06.200(1 – 2).
- 11 AAC 06.200(3).
- 11 AAC 06.040(a)(3)(B); 11 AAC 05.200(10).
- AK ST §34.15.040; AK ST §34.15.050.
- AK ST §34.15.030.
- AK ST §34.15.070(a).
- See AK ST §09.45.260.
- AK ST §13.48.010.
- AK ST §34.25.055(a – b).
- See AK ST §34.25.055; AK ST §13.36.079.
- AK ST §13.36.005.
- AK ST §34.15.010(a).
- AK ST §09.63.090(1)(C)(ii), (iii), and (iv).
- AK ST §34.25.055.
- AK ST §34.20.080(b).
- AK ST §34.20.070(a).
- AK ST §34.20.080(a).
- AK ST §34.20.080(b) and (f).
- AK ST §34.25.080.
- AK ST §34.25.050.
- AK ST §34.15.110(a).
- AK ST §34.15.130.
- AK ST §34.15.130.
- AK ST §34.15.140.
- See AK ST §§13.36.005, et. seq.
- AK ST §13.36.072.
- AK ST §34.15.140.
- AK ST §34.15.110(b).
- AK ST §34.15.140(a).
- AK ST §34.15.110(b).
- AK Stat. §34.77.030(a).
- AK Stat. §34.77.030(b) and (c).
- AK ST §34.77.090(d)(3).
- AK ST §34.77.100(d)(3).
- AK ST §34.77.100(e).
- AK ST §34.15.010(b).
- AK ST §09.38.10; AK ST §34.15.010(b).