What Types of Deeds Are Recognized in Tennessee?
Tennessee real estate owners can transfer ownership or change how property is titled by recording a signed, written deed.1 Tennessee recognizes three primary types of deeds. The distinguishing feature of each type is the warranty of title it provides the new owner.
Warranty of title is a guarantee the person who signs a deed (the grantor) gives to the person who receives the property (the grantee). The guarantee typically involves one or more legal promises—called covenants of title—about the condition of the property’s title.2 Warranty of title protects the new owner against title problems like liens, boundary disputes, and reduced marketability due to chain-of-title flaws.
Tennessee’s main deed forms—from strongest to weakest warranty—are warranty deeds, special warranty deeds, and quitclaim deeds.
Tennessee Warranty Deed Form
A Tennessee warranty deed form—also called a general warranty deed—transfers property with complete warranty of title.3 The property owner making the transfer promises that:
- The owner holds good title and has the right to transfer the property;
- No undisclosed liens, mortgages, assessments, or other encumbrances affect the title;
- No lawful third-party claims will disturb the new owner’s possession; and
- The current owner will take responsibility for any title problems that arise.4
A warranty deed’s guarantee protects the new owner from title problems by keeping the risk of undisclosed issues with the current owner. The new owner can sue the current owner for breach of warranty or breach of covenant if a title problem causes the new owner financial loss.5
Warranty deeds are the most common deed form for arms-length sales of Tennessee residential real estate.
Tennessee Special Warranty Deed Form
A Tennessee special warranty deed form transfers property with limited warranty of title.6 The current owner guarantees a good title with no undisclosed liens. However, the guarantee applies only to issues that took root during the current owner’s ownership period. A title problem caused by events that occurred before the current owner took title is outside the limited warranty’s scope.
Special warranty deeds divide the risk of title problems between the current owner and the new owner. The new owner can sue the current owner for title problems that arose while the current owner owned the property. Any other issues are the new owner’s responsibility.
Sales of Tennessee commercial real estate often use special warranty deeds.
Tennessee Quitclaim Deed Form
A Tennessee quitclaim deed form provides no warranty of title. The new owner receives the transferor’s entire interest in the real estate with no promises about the status of the property’s title.7 A quitclaim deed places all risk of title problems on the new owner. If the property is subject to undisclosed liens or the transferor has no actual interest to transfer, the new owner is responsible for fixing the issue or bearing the financial loss.
What Types of Estate Planning Deeds Are Used in Tennessee?
Estate planning deeds are deeds that arrange for transfer of real estate at the owner’s death. The following deeds often come up in Tennessee estate planning and administration.
Tennessee Life Estate Deed Form
A Tennessee life estate deed form gives one individual (the life tenant) a lifetime interest in real estate and another person (the remainderman) the right to take title after the life tenant dies.8 A property owner who creates a Tennessee life estate deed often reserves the life estate to him- or herself and gives the remainder interest to a family member. The life tenant has a duty to preserve the remainder interest and can transfer only the life estate—not complete title—after recording a life estate deed.9
Tennessee Transfer-on-Death Deed Form
Tennessee law does not recognize transfer-on-death (TOD) deeds. In states that authorize them, TOD deeds allow real estate to automatically transfer to a named beneficiary upon the current owner’s death. The advantage of TOD deeds is that they do not limit the owner’s property rights during life.
A bill adopting the Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act—which would authorize TOD deeds if passed—has been introduced in the Tennessee legislature.
Tennessee Executor’s Deed
An executor’s deed—also called a personal representative’s deed—transfers real estate from a deceased owner’s estate to the owner’s heir or beneficiary. A personal representative or executor creates the deed within the court-supervised probate process. The probate court’s approval is often required before registering the deed.
What Are the Ways in Which Multiple Owners Can Jointly Own Tennessee Real Estate?
A Tennessee deed that transfers real estate to two or more new owners should specify the form of co-ownership the new owners will use. Tennessee law gives co-owners several options to choose from.
Tenancy in Common
Co-owners who hold title as tenants in common—or cotenants—hold separate, independently transferable interests. A tenant in common’s interest is typically a percentage or fraction of the property’s title. Tenants in common in Tennessee can acquire their interests separately, hold unequal shares, and transfer their interests after death using a will or trust.
Tennessee law assumes a tenancy in common if two or more co-owners hold unequal interests, received their interests at different times, or take title under a deed that describes them as “tenants in common.”
Joint tenants are two or more co-owners who mutually share complete title to real estate. Joint tenants in Tennessee can hold title with or without a right of survivorship. When co-owners have a right of survivorship, a deceased owner’s share automatically vests in the surviving owner. An interest held by joint tenants with right of survivorship therefore does not go through probate.
Tennessee law does not imply a right of survivorship between joint tenants—as in some states.10 A Tennessee deed to joint tenants must expressly declare the intent to create a right of survivorship. Absent a right of survivorship, a deceased joint tenant’s interest passes to his or her heirs in the same manner as a tenant in common’s interest.
Tennessee law treats two or more unmarried co-owners as joint tenants if they received the same property interest, through the same deed, starting at the same time, and with the same undivided possession.11
Tenancy by the Entirety
Tennessee allows married spouses—and married spouses only—to own real estate as tenants by the entirety.12 Tenancy by the entirety—also called estate by the entirety—is very similar to joint tenancy. The practical differences are that:
- Only married spouses can be tenants by the entirety;
- Tenancy by the entirety provides extra creditor protection; and
- Tennessee law assumes a right of survivorship between tenants by the entirety.
A Tennessee deed that transfers real estate equally to two new owners identified as spouses creates a tenancy by the entirety unless it declares another co-ownership form.13 A married sole owner can create a tenancy by the entirety by creating a deed that transfers the property to the owner and the owner’s spouse “as tenants by the entirety.”14 A tenancy by the entirety is automatically destroyed and becomes a tenancy in common if the co-owners divorce.15
Tenancy in Common with Right of Survivorship
Tenancy in common does not ordinarily involve a right of survivorship, and most states do not recognize a right of survivorship between tenants in common. Tennessee is one of the few states that allow tenancy in common with right of survivorship (TICWROS). To create a TICWROS, a deed must unambiguously declare the intent to transfer property to co-owners as “tenants in common with right of survivorship.”16
Real Estate Ownership through Trusts
A revocable living trust can approximate co-ownership of Tennessee real estate by two or more co-owners. The trust’s trustee formally holds title, and the trust’s beneficiaries enjoy the benefits of the property.17 Tennessee trust law allows a person to be a trustee and beneficiary of the same trust—as long as one person is not the trust’s sole trustee and sole beneficiary.18
What Are the Rules for Spousal Ownership of Tennessee Real Estate?
Tennessee law gives spouses legal rights in property—particularly real estate—owned by one or both spouses. Spousal property rules can affect the legal requirements for deeds and the way married property owners choose to title real estate or design estate plans.
Tennessee Homestead Rights
A Tennessee homestead is a property that serves as the principal residence of the property owner or the owner’s spouse or legal dependent.19 Tennessee gives a surviving spouse a right to at least a life estate in the deceased spouse’s homestead.20 A Tennessee deed that transfers a married person’s homestead must be signed by both spouses—even if only one spouse holds title.21
Spousal Intestate Share
A spouse’s intestate share is the portion of a deceased spouse’s estate that a surviving spouse receives if the deceased spouse left no will. Tennessee gives a surviving spouse the entire estate if the deceased spouse has no surviving children or grandchildren.22 Otherwise, the surviving spouse receives either one-third of the estate or the same share each of the deceased spouse’s children receive—whichever is greater.23
Along with an inheritance or elective share, a surviving spouse also has a priority right to up to $50,000.00 of the deceased spouse’s personal property and a spousal support allowance for one year’s support—as judged by the probate court.24
Spousal Elective Share
A surviving spouse in Tennessee has a right to claim an elective share in the deceased spouse’s estate. The elective share is an optional inheritance a surviving spouse can claim in place of the intestate share or share assigned under the deceased spouse’s will.25
The elective share value is from 10 to 40 percent of the deceased spouse’s net estate.26 The marriage’s length determines the percentage. The net estate is the deceased spouse’s probate estate minus funeral and administration costs, exemptions and allowances, and secured debts if creditors can claim the collateral.27
The elective share actually paid from the estate to the surviving spouse is reduced by the value of other assets the deceased spouse transferred to the surviving spouse outside probate—such as assets transferred through a living trust, joint ownership, or a payable-on-death account.28
Where Are Deeds Filed in Tennessee?
Each Tennessee county’s elected county register—also called the register of deeds—maintains official land records for the county.29 Deeds affecting a Tennessee property’s title must be filed with the register of deeds of the county where the property is located.30 Tennessee statutes use the word register—rather than record—for the act of adding a legal document to a county’s official land records.31
What Is the Effect of Recording a Tennessee Deed?
A registered deed provides “notice to all the world” of the title transfer.32 A deed affecting Tennessee real estate does not serve as notice to third parties until the deed is registered.33 An unregistered deed is therefore ineffective against creditors and subsequent purchasers. 34
Does Tennessee Allow Electronic Recording?
The Tennessee General Assembly adopted the Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act (URPERA) in 2007.35 URPERA authorizes filing and registration of Tennessee deeds in electronic format. An “electronic document” with an “electronic signature” counts as an original, signed deed eligible for registration if it satisfies URPERA and Tennessee’s other legal requirements for deeds.36
Tennessee counties may—but are not required to—adopt procedures for electronic filing and registration of deeds.37 Counties that allow electronic filing must continue to also accept deeds in paper format.38
What Is the Cost to File a Tennessee Deed?
County registers charge a filing fee of $10.00, plus $5.00 per page for each page over two, for registration of a Tennessee deed.39 Registers may also charge a service charge of $2.00 per registered deed.40 Counties that accept electronic filings may charge an additional fee for electronically filed deeds.41
Tennessee law authorizes additional fees for certain counties and circumstances, so the precise fee due when registering a deed may vary. A county register cannot register a deed before receiving the required fee.42
Does Tennessee Charge a Transfer Tax for Real Estate Transfers?
A property’s value is the higher of (a) the amount paid—or consideration—for the transfer, or (b) the property’s fair market value.45 However, recording tax is always based on the actual consideration if the transfer is made by quitclaim deed.46
Who Is Responsible for Paying Tennessee Transfer Tax?
The new owner receiving property under the deed is responsible for paying recording tax.47 The county register collects payment when a deed is filed and is prohibited from registering a deed until the recording tax due (if any) is paid.48
Which Deeds Are Exempt from Tennessee’s Transfer Tax?
Tennessee exempts certain deeds from recording tax.49 Exempt deeds should identify the reason for the exemption on the face of the deed.
The following are common types of exempt deeds:
- Deeds for the purpose of creating or dissolving a tenancy by the entirety;
- Deeds dividing real estate previously held by tenants in common;
- Deeds releasing a life estate to the remainder interest holder;
- Deeds from the deceased owner’s executor transferring estate property according to a will;
- Deeds pursuant to a divorce decree or to adjust divorcing spouses’ property rights;
- Deeds to the transferor’s (or spouse’s) revocable living trust;
- Deeds from a revocable living trust’s trustee back to the original transferor (or spouse);
- Deeds from a revocable living trust’s trustee to distribute property upon the settlor’s death;
- Deeds from a revocable living trust’s or testamentary trust’s trustee to a trust beneficiary;
- Deeds relating to a corporation’s merger, consolidation, or transfer of substantially all assets under a plan of reorganization.50
Does Tennessee Require Any Additional Forms When Recording a Deed?
Tennessee does not require a separate transfer tax return or other additional forms when registering a deed. The deed itself must include the new owner’s signed verification of the property’s value or the transfer’s actual consideration.51 A quitclaim deed’s verification always states the actual consideration—which may be $0.00.52
The new owner’s verification may be on the face of the deed or in an attached affidavit. Tennessee law does not require verification if the deed is exempt from recording tax.53 The new owner typically verifies the exemption category if the deed is exempt.
- Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 66-5-101; 66-24-101.
- See Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-5-103.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-5-103(1).
- See Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-5-103(1), Dickinson v. Bain, 921 S.W.2d 189 (Tenn. 1996).
- See Young v. Brannan, 5 Tenn. App. 1 (Tenn. App., 1927).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-5-103(1)(B).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-5-103(2).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-1-103.
- Edwards v. Puckett, 268 S.W.2d 582 (Tenn. 1954).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-1-107.
- Bryant v. Bryant, 522 S.W.3d 392 (Tenn. 2017).
- Bryant v. Bryant, 522 S.W.3d 392 (Tenn. 2017).
- Runions et al. v. Runions, 207 S.W.2d 1016 (Tenn. 1948).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-1-109.
- White v. Watson, 571 S.W.2d 493 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1978).
- Bryant v. Bryant, 522 S.W.3d 392 (Tenn. 2017).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-15-114(a).
- Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 35-15-401 – 35-15-402.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-2-301(a).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-1-104.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-2-301(b).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-104(a)(1).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-104(a)(2).
- Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 30-2-101; 30-2-102.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-4-101(a)(1).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-4-101(a)(1).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-4-101(b).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-4-101(c); see also Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 67-8-303 – 67-8-308.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-13-108.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-24-103.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-24-101.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-26-102.
- Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 66-5-106; 66-26-101.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-26-103.
- See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 66-24-201, et seq.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-24-203.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-24-204.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-24-206.
- Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-21-1001(b)(3) and (5).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-21-1001(c).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-21-1001(j).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-21-1001.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(1).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(1).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(1)(D).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(1)(F).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(1)(F)(iv).
- Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 67-4-409(a)(1)(C)(i)-(a)(1)(C)(viii).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(e).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(6).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(4).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-409(a)(5).