The law of deeds has its roots in the ancient rite of livery of seisin. That ceremony served as the forerunner to the modern deeding process at a time when very few persons could write. This method of transferring ownership required that the buyer and seller gather a group of local residents on the property to be sold.
All the persons would march around the boundaries of the property and then assemble at its center. Once there the seller would dig up a chuck of sod and offer it to the buyer with the local resident’s witnesses. While offering the sod, the seller would recite the terms of the transaction. Ownership was transferred when the buyer accepted the chuck of sod from the hands of the seller. While the modern deeding processes have replaced the old livery seisin, it’s easier to understand the modern process when it’s compared with the old ceremony.
The modern deeding process today, paper replaces the chunk of sod. Usually a deed is a single sheet of paper. Like the sod, a new deed is created each time there is a sale. Like the ancient ceremony of livery seisin, it’s the whole deeding process which transfers ownership. All the parts of the modern process must be completed before ownership is transferred. These elements of the modern deeding process are execution, acceptance and delivery.
Execution refers to the format, language and signing of the deed document. Many states have enacted statues which specify a form for short, simple deeds. These are called statutory deeds. While all deeds are essentially similar, there are some slight variations from state to state. For example, while some states require that the deeds new notarized to be valid, most states do not. Notarizing involves marking signed documents in a way which indicates that an official of the state has determined that the signatures are valid.
By itself, execution of a valid deed does not transfer ownership. Delivery, like transferring the chuck of sod, merely involves transferring possession of a properly executed deed with the intention of shifting ownership. Delivery can be made to either the buyer or the buyer’s agent.
As so, if a mother executed a deed in favor of a daughter, but the deed was left in the mother’s safe-deposit box until her death, the deed would not transfer ownership because it was not delivered. Further, if a deed were deliver just as security for a debt, ownership would not transferred because there was no intent to shift ownership. Acceptance merely means that the buyer indicates a willingness to assume ownership. Retaining the deed after delivery usually constitutes acceptance. In a nutshell, this is the deeding process of today!