What is a Legal Description?
A legal description is a description of real estate that is sufficient to identify it for legal purposes. When preparing a deed, it is important to use the correct legal description. In most situations, the best practice is to use the legal description from the most recent deed to the property.
How to Locate the Legal Description of Real Estate
There are a few different types of legal descriptions (discussed below), but these distinctions are often irrelevant to the deed preparation process. Knowing the different types of legal descriptions isn’t as important as knowing where to find the legal description to the specific property being conveyed.
The best place to find a legal description is usually the most recent deed to the property (the deed that conveyed the property to the current owner). The legal description is usually contained in the body of the deed. Legal descriptions are usually preceded by words of introduction, such as “… described as follows.” This language indicates that the legal description is about to begin. The legal description is often double-indented or set in boldface type to set it apart from the rest of the deed. See the examples below for an illustration.
Sometimes, the legal description is attached as an exhibit to the deed. If so, the body of the deed will usually reference the attached legal description. For example, the body of the deed may refer to the property as “… the property described on Exhibit ‘A’ attached hereto.” Exhibit “A” will be attached to the deed and contain the legal description.
Comparison with Other Forms of Description
A legal description is one that is legally sufficient to describe the property. Using the most recent deed to the property is usually the best way to ensure that the current owner’s interest passes to the new owner. The following is a list of other types of descriptions that are often insufficient to qualify as an adequate legal description:
- The description shown in the property tax records. Property tax records are not the same thing as land records. Depending on the county and state, the property tax records may use a brief description that is inadequate to legally describe the property. And because the tax records are not legal records, the summary description show in the tax records may actually describe a different property than the prior deed.
- Street address. A street address is not a legal description. Street addresses often change, and they were never intended to provide a reliable description for purposes of deed preparation. A street address is not sufficient to serve as an adequate legal description of the real estate.
In most cases, there’s no substitute for simply locating the most recent deed to the property and using the legal description found on that deed.
Using the Right Legal Description
When preparing a legal description, it is important to use the exact legal description that appears on the most recent deed to the property. This requires the preparer to pay special attention. It is best practice to proofread the legal description multiple times to be sure that every letter and item of punctuation appears exactly as it did in the prior deed.
Types of Legal Descriptions
There are two primary types of legal descriptions: Lot and block descriptions, which are most often associated with subdivisions; and metes and bounds descriptions, which are used for non-subdivision property. Some legal descriptions contain both lot and block and metes and bounds descriptions.
Subdivision (Lot and Block)
If real estate is located in a subdivision, the legal description may be very simple. It will typically refer to one or more lots, the block (or blocks) on which the lots are located, the subdivision name, and the county and state.
To see an example of how a lot and block legal description appears on an actual deed, see Sample Deed – Lot and Block.
Survey (Metes and Bounds)
A metes and bounds description describes the property by locating it within the public surveying system. The boundaries of the property are described by working around a parcel of real estate in sequence, starting with a point of beginning. The point of beginning could be a landmark or a point described based in the United States Public Land Survey System. Here’s an example of a metes and bounds description:
To see an example of how a metes and bounds description appears on an actual deed, see Sample Deed – Metes and Bounds.