By Attorney Keith Stevens
Here's my second piece advice about dealing with deeds and transfers of property.
You may need a survey
This is much more common for people who have farmland than residential property. Let me give you the example of some clients I recently met with. They had purchased 140 acres back in the early 1960s. Since that time, they've given away or sold land about nine times until now that 140-acre parcel is down to about 70 acres.
This can be a headache for people who prepare your deeds (like putting them into trust) if you never update the legal description. The legal description is how the tax map office and the county engineer know which exact parcel you're talking about. If you look on the back of the deed, you'll probably see either a description of a numbered lot (if you're in a development) or a staggering list of coordinates and angular measurements (if you're in the country). You may even learn some new vocabulary, because in a legal description a chain isn't a bit of interconnected metal, a perch isn't a fish, and a rod doesn't attract lightning. These are all means of measuring the dimensions of land.
If you have sold off a bunch of little pieces of land, all these pieces have to be reported in the legal description as a “save and except.” (Think “the forty acres described here, save and except the two acres described below”). If we have too many of those, the tax map office is going to want a whole new description. That's when you need a new survey.
How can you escape this fate? If you are giving away or selling a part of your land and having that chunk surveyed off anyway, get the surveyor to stick around a bit later and survey the remainder. It will cost a little it more, but it can save a headache and confusion in the long run.
Besides this, you may also need a survey to get a new legal description if your old one is too archaic. Modern legal descriptions are written in feet and use surveyor's pins to mark boundaries. Old legal descriptions were not standard. My favorite old-style legal description I dealt with was drafted in the 1920s and used as its point of references stones and oak trees of specific diameters. You can also hear title agents gripe about finding deeds that use the middle of a creek as the boundary. If you have an old family deed that looks like this, be aware that you may need a new survey to update and standardize the legal description next time you transfer property.
Surveys are sometimes a necessary evil. It makes the county happy, keeps your tax bill accurate, and my have to be done now (during estate planning) or later (after you've passed away, before the land can go anywhere).
IRS CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. tax advice contained in this communication (or in any attachment) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this communication (or in any attachment).