What is an Alaska Special Warranty Deed Form?
When signing an Alaska special warranty deed form, an owner of real estate (grantor) transfers ownership to a new owner (grantee) with a limited warranty of title. Warranty of title is an enforceable promise that the title to real estate is free from defects like liens or adverse claims. The warranty provided under an Alaska special warranty deed is limited in that the guaranty only extends to the period during which the current owner owned the property.
By comparison, Alaska quitclaim deeds convey real estate with no warranty of title, and Alaska general warranty deeds provide a full warranty with no time limitation.1 Special warranty deeds offer a middle-ground approach, presenting both the current owner and the new owner with some protection but also some risk.
Alaska provides statutory vesting language for both quitclaim deeds and general warranty deeds.2 When a deed includes the statutory language, Alaska law assumes the deed is a quitclaim or general warranty deed—depending on the language used. Alaska does not have model language for special warranty deeds, and Alaska law will not assume a conveyance encompasses any covenants or warranties unless expressly written into the deed.3
An Alaska special warranty deed must have precise language specifying what warranty the current owner intends to provide. An inexactly prepared deed can have ramifications not intended by the current owner and could be invalid if it does not comply with Alaska’s statutory requirements.4
Other Names for an Alaska Special Warranty Deed Form
Depending on the jurisdiction, deeds conveying real estate with a time-limited warranty of title go by a variety of names. Alaska favors the term special warranty deed, though that term is not specified by statute. Other jurisdictions use limited warranty deed, covenant deed, and grant deed for the same basic concept.5
There can be subtle, but sometimes significant, differences in exactly how special warranty deeds and their synonyms are treated under different states’ real estate laws. A deed must always account for the laws of the state where the real estate is located.
While some states provide statutory language for special warranty deeds—and imply certain warranties when the statutory language is present—that is not the case in Alaska. Alaska special warranty deeds must be carefully worded to clearly limit the warrant to the period when the grantor owned the property.
How do Alaska Special Warranty Deed Forms Relate to Other Forms of Deeds?
Alaska special warranty deeds are only one type of deed. They are best understood in relation to two other deed forms recognized by Alaska real estate law—quitclaim deeds and general warranty deeds. The fundamental difference among these three Alaska deed forms is the differing warranty of title provided with each.
- General Warranty Deed Form. An Alaska general warranty deed form—often called a warranty deed—comes with full warranty of title. The current owner promises that title to the transferred property is free of defects for all time. Even if a title defect predates the current owner’s ownership and was unknown to the current owner, the warranty covers the defect—which means the current owner bears all the risk of unclear title.6
- Quitclaim Deed Form. An Alaska quitclaim deed form—also written quit claim and sometimes called release deed—comes with no warranty of title. The current owner conveys to the new owner whatever title the current owner has, if any, and all risk relating to title defects is the new owner’s responsibility.7
- Special Warranty Deed Form. An Alaska special warranty deed form splits the difference between quitclaim and warranty deeds, allowing the parties to share the risk of title defects. The current owner promises no liens or clouds on title arose while the current owner owned the property, and the new owner shoulders the risk of title defects predating the current owner’s ownership.
Alaska recognizes a few other specialized deed forms defined not by the warranty of title but by the purpose of the deed. Of particular note in the financial-planning context are
- Life Estate Deed Form. A life estate deed form allows a property owner to convey or reserve an ownership interest that lasts for the rest of the life estate holder’s life, followed by a remainder interest that vests in a future owner, called the remainderman;8
- Transfer on Death Deed Form. An Alaska transfer-on-death deed form allows a property owner to name a beneficiary who, upon the owner’s death, automatically receives title without going through probate;9 and
- Executor’s Deed Form. An executor’s deed form is a deed that an estate’s executor or personal representative signs to transfer estate property to a purchaser, beneficiary, or other assignee of the estate.10 Executor’s deeds are used as part of Alaska probate proceedings.
Common Uses of Alaska Special Warranty Deed Forms
Transactions involving the sale of commercial and multi-family residential properties are the most common context for special warranty deeds. A seller might be reasonably confident no title problems arose while the seller held title but not want to assume the risk for events outside the seller’s knowledge and control. A purchaser might insist on a warranty that the seller holds lawful title free of undisclosed liens and that the seller has the authority to transfer the property.
Alaska special warranty deeds can also be suitable when a fiduciary transfers real estate on behalf of the property’s legal owner. A fiduciary is less likely to have personal knowledge of a property’s history, and a fiduciary’s appointment might not authorize a more comprehensive warranty. An Alaska special warranty deed could be issued in a fiduciary capacity by:
- An officer or member acting for a corporation or LLC;
- A trustee acting for a trust;
- A personal representative acting for a deceased person’s estate; or,
- A conservator or guardian acting on behalf of a protected or incapacitated person.
Depending on the scenario, a property’s current owner, new owner, or financing company might purchase or require title insurance as a condition of a transfer made by a special warranty deed. When in place, title insurance shifts the risk of title defects away from the parties and onto an insurance company. The insurer undertakes the duty to defend against adverse claims and agrees to cover financial losses resulting from unknown defects.11 Further, before agreeing to issue a title insurance policy, the insurer will insist that a professional title examination is conducted, increasing the likelihood that potential problems are identified before closing.
How to Create an Alaska Special Warranty Deed
Alaska special warranty deeds must be carefully tailored both to accomplish the current and new owners’ intent and to comply with Alaska law. Especially because Alaska does not provide statutory language, a special warranty deed must unambiguously express the warranties intended with the transfer. While Alaska law will not read any unexpressed covenants or warranties into a deed, the parties have the flexibility to include whichever lawful covenants and warranties—subject to whichever restrictions or limitations—that the parties have negotiated.12
Likewise, Alaska law assumes that property owners who execute deeds intend to transfer their entire interest in the property.13 If a property owner signing an Alaska special warranty deed intends to convey anything less than complete title to the property, the deed must unambiguously express that intent.
Along with accurately reflecting the contemplated warranties and conveyance, an Alaska special warranty deed must also satisfy all legal requirements applicable to Alaska deeds generally.14 Alaska deeds must state:
- The parties’ names and mailing addresses;
- A sufficiently detailed legal description of the property; and,
- The Recording District where the deed will be filed.15
A deed that is improperly formatted or omits necessary terms may be ineligible for recording and therefore ineffective to provide formal notice of the conveyance—or the underlying conveyance may fail altogether.16 Real estate law terminology is not always intuitive, and precise legal phrasing is often necessary to achieve the desired objective.
- AK ST §34.15.040; AK ST §34.15.030.
- AK ST §34.15.040; AK ST §34.15.030.
- AK ST §34.15.080.
- See, e.g., AK ST §40.17.030; AK ST §34.15.010.
- See, e.g., Ohio Rev. Code §5302.07; Cal. Civ. Code §1092.
- AK ST §34.15.030.
- AK ST §34.15.040; AK ST §34.15.050.
- See AK ST §09.45.260.
- AK ST §13.48.010; also called TOD deeds or beneficiary deeds.
- AK ST §34.25.050.
- See AK ST §21.66.480(6).
- AK ST §34.15.080; See James v. McCombs, 936 P.2d 520 (Alaska 1997).
- AK ST §34.15.070(a).
- See, e.g., AK ST §40.17.030; AK ST §34.15.010.
- AK ST 40.17.030(a)(5), (8), and (9).
- AK ST §40.17.080(a).