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What If a Dead Former Owner’s Deed Shows Up Online?

RE Q&A: A buyer bought her home from a widow. But even with a death certificate, the county didn’t remove her deceased husband’s name from the deed.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: I purchased a property from a widow who owned the home with her deceased husband. Some questions about the ownership seemed to be resolved by presenting his death certificate to the county. Still, his name shows up when I search the property online.

I asked the county to remove his name from the deed but was told they could not do that. I want to sell the property, but how can I if his deed still shows up online? – Kimberley

Answer: Title to your home is determined differently than the title to a car or boat. A car’s title is an official certificate signed and turned over to the new owner and then registered with the state.

Home title has a different process. It is determined by reviewing your county’s official records.

Each deed or other record, known as “muniments of title,” is reviewed by an experienced professional to determine the property’s current owner. This is part of what your closing attorney is responsible for.

A deed will be signed, witnessed, and notarized to transfer property to a new owner. While the deed must contain certain legal formalities, it is nothing more than tangible evidence of the intent to transfer ownership to a new owner.

The rules about our system of land ownership go back almost a thousand years to the medieval ceremony known as “livery of seisin,” where the townspeople would witness a landowner handing over a clump of dirt to the new owner to establish the transfer. Over the years, the law has evolved so we can accomplish this sitting in air conditioning holding a pen.

Public records, such as deeds, are permanently recorded in chronological order with your county and cannot be changed. The mere fact that someone was on a prior deed does not matter if there is other recorded evidence of the transfer.

In your case, the deed from the widow and the recorded death certificate should suffice.

If the deceased’s name is still showing on the Property Appraiser’s website, you should confirm your ownership with the title agent that handled your closing. Ask them to investigate.

If it turns out that there is a bigger problem, you can make a claim against the title insurance policy you most likely bought at closing.

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