Pennsylvania Deed Forms for Real Estate Transfers
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What Types of Deeds Are Recognized in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania gives property owners three options for transferring title to real estate during the owner’s life. The types of deeds Pennsylvania recognizes are distinguished by and named for the warranty of title each deed provides.
A deed’s warranty consists of legal promises—called covenants of title—that the current owner makes to the new owner. A covenant of title is a guarantee regarding the status or condition of the current owner’s title to the property. A Pennsylvania deed may include one, several, or no covenants of title—depending on the type of deed.
Pennsylvania Quitclaim Deed Form
A Pennsylvania quitclaim deed contains no covenants of title.1 The transferee receives whatever rights or interest in the property that the transferor holds. The would-be new owner assumes the risk that there may be problems with the title. If the transferor who signs a quitclaim deed does not actually own the property, the transferee receives nothing and has no right to sue the signer under the deed.2
Quitclaim deeds typically involve transfers for no consideration—or payment given in exchange for the transfer. For example, an owner might use a quitclaim deed to transfer real estate to a living trust or add a spouse to a property’s title. Property owners do not ordinarily use quitclaim deeds to transfer property to a purchaser for fair market value.
Pennsylvania Warranty Deed Form
A Pennsylvania warranty deed transfers real estate with the strongest warranty of title among Pennsylvania’s deed forms. A warranty deed’s warranty extends throughout the property’s entire history and covers any title problems not specifically excluded by the deed. The current owner therefore bears all of the risk, and the new owner can sue the current owner if the new owner is financially harmed by a title issue.
Most Pennsylvania warranty deeds include the following covenants of title from the current owner:3
- Seisin. The current owner actually holds complete title to the property.
- Freedom from encumbrance. No undisclosed liens, mortgages, assessments, or other encumbrances impair the property’s title.
- Quiet enjoyment. The new owner’s ownership will not be disturbed by third-party legal claims.
- Warranty. The current owner accepts legal responsibility for title problems and will defend the new owner’s title against lawful third-party claims.
Pennsylvania Special Warranty Deed Form
Special warranty deeds are the most common deeds for sales of Pennsylvania real estate. They typically contain covenants of title similar to warranty deeds. However, the covenants are limited to issues derived from the current owner’s ownership of the property.4
A special warranty deed splits the risk of title problems between the current owner and the new owner—depending on the origin of a particular problem. The current owner bears the risk of title problems caused by something he or she did or allowed. Issues that arose before the current owner took title are the new owner’s responsibility.
Attorney Practice Note: Pennsylvania Grant Deeds: Pennsylvania’s real estate statutes provide for another optional deed form called a grant deed.5 The language suggested in the grant deed statute is written generally and leaves blank spaces for the drafter to add or omit covenants of title. Grant deeds offer no legal advantages over other deed forms and are no longer commonly used in Pennsylvania.
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What Types of Estate Planning Deeds Are Used in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania law recognizes two types of deeds—life estate deeds and survivorship deeds—that are often useful in estate planning. Both deeds let an owner proactively arrange for real estate to pass to another person at the owner’s death without going through probate. Pennsylvania’s estate-planning deeds have no inherent warranty of title, so a Pennsylvania deed can simultaneously be a life estate deed or survivorship deed and a quitclaim deed, warranty deed, or special warranty deed.
Pennsylvania Life Estate Deed Form
A Pennsylvania life estate deed creates an ownership interest (a life estate) that lasts until the death of the interest holder (the life tenant). A life estate deed also names a remainder beneficiary—or remainderman—who receives a vested future right to take title when the life tenant dies.6
In the estate-planning context, property owners typically name themselves as life tenant and give the remainder interest to the owner’s child or other intended heir. The owner keeps possession of the property for life, and the remainder beneficiary automatically takes title when the owner dies. The downside is that, during life, the owner cannot sell or transfer complete title without the beneficiary’s consent.
Pennsylvania Survivorship Deed Form
A survivorship deed transfers real estate to co-owners who share a right of survivorship. When a co-owner dies, the surviving co-owner receives the deceased owner’s share automatically and then holds complete title to the property. A property owner creating a survivorship deed for an estate plan often transfers title to him- or herself and a family member—often the owner’s spouse or child—subject to a right of survivorship.
A Pennsylvania survivorship deed can declare the new owners either joint tenants with right of survivorship or (if they are married) tenants by the entirety.7
Attorney Practice Note: Pennsylvania Transfer-on-Death Deeds: A transfer-on-death (TOD) deed names a beneficiary to take title automatically at the owner’s death. TOD deeds pass property outside probate and have the benefit of not limiting the owner’s right to sell, transfer, or mortgage the property while the owner is living. Pennsylvania law does not currently recognize TOD deeds, so a property owner cannot use a TOD deed to transfer Pennsylvania real estate outside probate. A Pennsylvania real estate owner may be able to accomplish similar objectives using a revocable living trust.
What Are the Ways in Which Multiple Owners Can Jointly Own Pennsylvania Real Estate?
Pennsylvania law offers a few options for two or more persons to jointly own Pennsylvania real estate. A deed that transfers real estate to multiple new owners should specify the form of co-ownership the new co-owners will use.
Tenancy in Common
Tenancy in common is Pennsylvania’s default co-ownership form. A deed to two or more persons creates a tenancy in common if it does not specify another co-ownership form. Tenants in common hold separately transferable shares—usually described as a fraction or percentage—in the same property interest. A deceased tenant in common’s interest passes through the probate process to the devisee named in the deceased co-owner’s will or to the co-owner’s legal heirs under Pennsylvania law.8
Co-owners in a joint tenancy jointly hold the same interest acquired at the same time through the same deed or other instrument.9 Joint tenants must also have equal rights of possession in the real estate.
Joint tenancies in most states have an inherent right of survivorship—which means a deceased co-owner’s interest automatically passes to the surviving co-owner. Pennsylvania law assumes that a joint tenant’s interest in Pennsylvania real estate goes through probate like a tenancy in common interest.10 However, a Pennsylvania deed can create a right of survivorship if the deed unambiguously declares that the new co-owners are joint tenants and will share a right of survivorship.11
Tenancy by the Entirety
Pennsylvania law recognizes a form of co-ownership called tenancy by the entirety when co-owners are married spouses. Tenancy by the entirety is similar to joint tenancy. The spouses jointly hold an undivided interest in the property with a right of survivorship between the spouses. So, a surviving spouse automatically becomes the sole owner, and a deceased spouse’s interest never goes through probate.12
Real Estate Ownership Through Trusts
Two or more persons can use a revocable living trust to possess and control Pennsylvania real estate without actually holding legal title. To do so, they must create a written trust instrument that:
- Declares the intent to create a trust;
- Explains how the trust will work;
- Names one or more trustee who will hold legal title and manage trust assets; and
- Names one or more beneficiary who will enjoy the benefits of the property.14
The current real estate owner then signs and records a deed that transfers legal title to the trustee in the trustee capacity. Pennsylvania law allows the same persons to be trustees and beneficiaries of the same trust—as long as one person is never the trust’s sole trustee and sole beneficiary.15
What Are the Rules for Spousal Ownership of Pennsylvania Real Estate?
Pennsylvania has legal rules that affect property ownership by married persons and give spouses rights in the other spouse’s property. An owner who is married or getting married should consider the spouse’s potential rights in the property when creating a deed or preparing an estate plan.
Pennsylvania Homestead Rights
Many states require both spouses to sign a deed that transfers a married couple’s homestead—even if only one spouse’s name is on the title. Pennsylvania has no such rule, so a non-owner spouse’s signature is unnecessary in a deed that transfers Pennsylvania real estate that only one spouse legally owns. The exception is that both spouses should sign a deed—or the non-owner spouse should sign a waiver—if a real estate transfer occurs while a divorce is pending.
Spousal Intestate Share
A surviving spouse’s intestate share is the portion of a deceased spouse’s assets the surviving spouse gets if there is no will.16 In Pennsylvania, the spousal intestate share depends on whether the deceased spouse has other surviving family members.
- No children or parents. The surviving spouse receives the entire estate if the deceased spouse leaves no surviving children or parents.
- Surviving parent and no children. The surviving spouse’s share is $30,000.00, plus half of the balance if the deceased spouse leaves no surviving children but has a surviving parent.
- Surviving children of both spouses. The surviving spouse’s share is $30,000.00, plus half of the balance, if the deceased spouse leaves only surviving children who are also the surviving spouse’s children.
- Surviving children not of surviving spouse. The surviving spouse’s share is one-half of the estate if the deceased spouse leaves at least one surviving child who is not the surviving spouse’s child.
Spousal Elective Share
A spousal elective share is the portion of a deceased spouse’s estate that state law guarantees the surviving spouse—even if a will provides for a lower or no share. The elective share in Pennsylvania is one-third of the deceased spouse’s adjusted estate.17 The adjusted estate includes all probate assets (including real estate), plus some other assets the deceased spouse had control over or co-owned with a right of survivorship. A married person can waive his or her right to an elective share through a signed, written waiver such as a prenuptial agreement.18
Where Are Deeds Filed in Pennsylvania?
A Pennsylvania deed must be properly recorded and indexed to be effective against third parties.19 Deeds are filed for recording with the recorder of deeds for the county where the property is located.20 Recording must occur within 90 days after the transferor signs the deed if the transferor signs in Pennsylvania.21 The deadline is six months if the transferor signs in another state.22
Attorney Practice Note: A deed that transfers real estate in a county with more than 500,000 residents must be registered with the office of the county commission prior to recording. The county commission usually tasks the board of assessments or comparable office with receiving deeds for registration.23 Pennsylvania also authorizes municipalities to adopt ordinances requiring the new owner of property in the municipality to register the deed with the municipality by delivering or mailing a copy via certified or registered mail within two days after recording.24
Does Pennsylvania Allow Electronic Recording?
Pennsylvania has enacted the Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act (URPERA) that authorizes recording of deed in electronic format.25 A deed that complies with URPERA and includes an electronic signature that meets legal requirements counts as an original, signed deed for purposes of recording eligibility rules.26 Not all Pennsylvania counties have implemented electronic recording. Counties with electronic filing must still accept deeds in paper form.27
What Is the Cost to File a Pennsylvania Deed?
The recording cost necessary to record a Pennsylvania deed depends on the county where the deed is recorded. The statutory minimum fee is $10.00 for deeds up to four pages, plus $2.00 for each additional page and $1.00 for each grantor or grantee over four.28 Actual fee amounts are higher and usually range from $70.00 to $90.00.
Does Pennsylvania Charge a Transfer Tax for Real Estate Transfers?
Pennsylvania charges a realty transfer tax for deeds at both the state and local level. The state transfer tax rate is 1.00 percent of the property’s value.29 Most counties also charge 1.00 percent—though the local rate is higher in some counties. Philadelphia County’s local rate is 3.278 percent, and Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) charges a 4.00 percent local tax.
A property’s value for transfer tax purposes is equal to the consideration paid for the property. If the transfer does not reflect a bona fide sale, the value is calculated by multiplying the property’s assessed value by the common level ratio factor assigned by the State Tax Equalization Board.30
Both parties to the deed are jointly and severally liable for paying transfer tax.31 The custom in Pennsylvania is for the parties to divide the transfer tax, but the parties can agree differently. Philadelphia requests separate checks for state and local transfer tax payments, but most counties combine both amounts into a single payment due.
Which Deeds are Exempt from Pennsylvania’s Transfer Tax?
Pennsylvania exempts 25 types of recorded documents from transfer tax.32 Common categories of exempt deeds include:
- Deeds between family members or transferring property under a divorce settlement;
- Deeds that transfer property under a will or Pennsylvania inheritance law;
- Deeds to a living trust’s trustee for no consideration;
- Deeds to a trustee for no consideration if a deed from the property owner to the beneficiaries would be exempt;
- Deeds for no consideration from a trustee to a beneficiary under the terms of the trust if a deed from the original property owner to the beneficiary would be exempt; and
- Deeds from a corporation pursuant to the corporation’s merger or consolidation.33
Does Pennsylvania Require Any Additional Forms When Recording a Deed?
Most Pennsylvania deeds must be filed with a completed Realty Transfer Tax Statement of Value (Form REV-183).34 Form REV-183 certifies the consideration for the transfer for transfer tax purposes. If the deed is exempt, the form calculates the property’s value (as defined under the statute) and declares the reason the deed is exempt.
Form REV-183 is not necessary if the deed itself identifies the actual consideration given for purchased real estate and the deed is not exempt from transfer tax.35 Form REV-183 is also unnecessary if the deed is exempt due to the parties’ family relationship and the deed clearly identifies the relationship supporting the exemption.36 Recorders of deeds in some counties ask for a completed Form REV-183 with all deeds—even if the deed is not legally required under the transfer tax law.
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- 21 Penn. Stat. § 7.
- Greek Catholic Congregation of Borough of Olyphant v. Plummer, 32 A.2d 299 (Pa. 1943).
- 21 Penn. Stat. §§ 4 and 5.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 6 and 8.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 1.
- See In re Dickson Estate, 105 A.2d 156 (Pa. 1954).
- See Gen. Credit Co. v. Cleck, 609 A.2d 553 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992).
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 301(b).
- Nicholson v. Johnston, 855 A.2d 97, 100 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2004).
- 68 Penn. Stat. § 110.
- Gen. Credit Co. v. Cleck, 609 A.2d 553, 556 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992).
- Clingerman v. Sadowski, 519 A.2d 378, 380 (1986).
- 23 Pa. C.S. § 3507(a).
- 20 Pa. C.S. §§ 7731; 7732(a)(2); 7703.
- 20 Pa. C.S. § 7732(a)(5).
- 20 Pa. C.S. § 2102.
- 20 Pa. C.S. § 2203(a).
- 20 Pa. C.S. § 2207.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 358.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 444.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 444.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 445.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 321.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 338.4(a).
- See 21 Penn. Stat. §§ 483.1 to 483.9.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 483.3.
- 21 Penn. Stat. § 483.4(a)(3).
- 16 Penn. Stat. § 11411.
- 72 Penn. Stat. § 8102-C.
- 72 Penn. Stat. § 8101-C.
- 61 Pa. Admin. Code § 91.111(b).
- 72 Penn. Stat. §§ 8102-C.3(1)-(25).
- See 61 Pa. Admin. Code §§ 91.151-91.171; 91.193 for more information about transfer tax exemptions.
- See 72 Penn. Stat. § 8109-C(a).
- 61 Pa. Admin. Code § 91.112(b).
- 61 Pa. Admin. Code § 91.112(d)(1).