title – the legal link between a person who owns property and the property itself, without any rightful participation by any other person in any part of it

     This page is continued from Property >>>> Ownership:



l. The union of all elements (as ownership, possession, and custody) constituting the legal right to control and dispose of property; the legal link between a person who owns property and the property itself <no one has title to that land>. 

2. Legal evidence of a person’s ownership rights in property; an instrument (such as a deed) that constitutes such evidence <record your title with the county clerk>. [1]

1. The legal estate in fee, clear of all valid claims, liens, and encumbrances whatsoever, or expressed differently, the ownership of land without any rightful participation by any other person in any part of it. Porter v Noyes, 2 Me 22.

The union of all the elements which constitute ownership, at common law divided into possession, right of possession and right of property, the last two now, however, being considered essentially the same. Carrol v Newark, 108 NJ 323, 158 A 485, 79 ALR 509.

The foundation of ownership; the basis of a person’s right or the extent of his interest.  The means whereby an owner is enabled to maintain or assert his possession and enjoyment. 42 Am J1st Prop § 36.

The right of an owner considered with reference either in the manner in which the property has been acquired or its capacity of being effectually transferred. 42 Am J1st Prop § 36.

Under the Uniform Stock Transfer Act, title means legal title and does not include a merely equitable or beneficial ownership or interest. Lyons v Freshman, 124 Mont 485, 226 P2d 775, 23 ALR2d 1165. [2]

1. The rights of an owner with respect to property, real or personal, i.e., possession and the right of possession.
     See abstract of titlecovenants for title; cover of title; examination of title; muniment of title; paper title; paramount title; perfect title; record title; root of title; tax title; Torrens title system; unity of title; warranty of title; worthier title doctrine.

2. A document that evidences the rights of an owner; i.e., ownership rights.  EXAMPLES in the case of real property, a deed; in the case of personal property, a bill of sale.
     See certificate of title; document of title. [3]

     Excerpt from Kent McNeil’s Common Law Aboriginal Title (1989):

     “Though employed in various ways, [title] is generally used to describe either the manner in which a right to real property is acquired, or the right itself.  In the first sense, it refers to the conditions necessary to acquire a valid claim to land; in the second, it refers to the legal consequences of such conditions.  These two senses are not only interrelated, but inseparable: given the requisite conditions, the legal consequences or rights follow as of course; given the rights, conditions necessary for the creation of those rights must have been satisfied.  Thus, when the word ‘title’ is used in one sense, the other sense is necessarily implied. [4]

Related Terms:

deed – a written instrument conveying real property or an interest therein.  aka evidence of title.

Types of Title:

good title – a legal and equitable title free from litigation, palpable defects, and grave doubts, not dependent upon any question of fact, and fairly deductible of record; has no outstanding interest, lien, encumbrance, or claim that could defeat or impair the interest; a person of reasonable prudence and intelligence, guided by competent legal advice, would  be willing to pay fair market value.— aka clear title; marketable title; merchantable title.

  • legal title – evidences apparent ownership but not necessarily full and complete title or a beneficial interest; must be marketable to be considered legally sufficient.
  • equitable title – indicates a beneficial interest in property, recognized as ownership in equity, but not legal title , that gives the holder the right to have the legal title transferred to him.
    • beneficial interest – a right or expectancy of value, worth, or use in property one does not own. (i.e a trust or estate) as opposed to legal title; a beneficiary’s interest.

bad title – a reasonable buyer would refuse to accept it because of a conflicting claim, possible conflicting interests in, or litigation over the property.— aka defective title; unmarketable titleunmerchantable title; nonmerchantable title.

  • doubtful title – open to reasonable doubt regarding any question of law or fact; would probably cause a purchaser to be involved in litigation with an adverse claimant.

dormant title – dormant title – an unclaimed title in real estate; a title to real estate held in abeyance, unasserted.

  • abeyance – a lapse in succession during which no person is vested with title, although the law considers it as always potentially existing and ready to vest when a proper person in whom it may vest appears.

Transfer or Acquisition of Title:

adverse title (18c) A title acquired by adverse possession

after-acquired title – the ownership interest in land which a person acquires after purporting to sell the property to the buyer.

derivative title – title that results when an already existing right is transferred to a new owner; a transferee acquires only the rights held by the transferor and no more.

escheat – the right of the state to take title to property after the death of a person who has not disposed of the property by will and has left no heirs to inherit it.

Title of Native Tribes:

aboriginal title (18c) 1. Land ownership, or a claim of land ownership, by an indigenous people in a place that has been colonized. — aka native title

Indian title – a right of occupancy, constituting possession rather than ownership, that the federal government grants to an American Indian tribe based on the tribe’s immemorial possession of the area. — aka aboriginal title; right of occupancy.


allodial title – Real-property ownership without a duty of service to, control by, or acknowledgment of any superior landlord. — aka radical title. [1]

1. The tenure of an estate by an owner in fee simple under the state as sovereign, as opposed to feudal tenure.  The dominion is absolute and direct, subject only to escheat in the event of failure of successors in ownership of land in the United States. 28 Am J2d Est § 4. [2]

allodial – 1. A term referring to land which is owned unencumbered, or “free and clear.” [3]

apparent title See COLOR OF TITLE.

defeasible title (17c) A title voidable on the occurrence of a contingency, but not void on its face. [1]

encumbrance – any property right (claim or liability) that is not ownership interest (e.g.. lien, mortgage, easement), attached to real property (or the title or record thereof), that may lessen its value.

imperfect title (18c) A title that requires a further exercise of the granting power to pass land in fee, or that does not convey full and absolute dominion.

Indian title – a right of occupancy, constituting possession rather than ownership, that the federal government grants to an American Indian tribe based on the tribe’s immemorial possession of the area. — aka aboriginal title; right of occupancyNative title

just title Civil law. In a case of prescription, a title that the possessor received from someone whom the possessor honestly believed to be the real owner, the title having been intended to transfer ownership of the property. La. Civ. Code art. 3483. — aka  justus titulus.

lucrative title (17c) Civil law. A title acquired without giving anything in exchange for the property; title by which a person acquires anything that comes as a clear gain, as by gift, descent, or devise.  *  Because lucrative title is usu. acquired by gift or inheritance, it is treated as the separate property of a married person.  Cf. onerous tit e.

onerous title (17c) 1. Civil law. A title acquired by giving valuable consideration for the property, as by paying money or performing services.  

2. A title to property that is acquired during marriage through a spouse’s skill or labor and is there ore treated as community property.  Cf. lucrative title.

original title – A title that creates a right for the first time.

     Excerpt from John Saimond’s Jurisprudence 345 (Glanvilie L. Williams ed., 10th ed. 1947):

     “The catching of fish is an original title of the right of ownership, whereas the purchase of them is a derivative title.  The right acquired by the fisherman is newly created; it did not formerly exist in any one.” 

paramount title – (18c) 1. Archaic. A title that is the source of the current title; original title.

2. A title that is superior to another title or claim on the same property.

particular title Civil law. A title acquired from an ancestor by purchase, gift, or inheritance before or after the ancestor’s death.

perfect title (16c) 1. FEE SIMPLE.

2. A grant of land that requires no further act from the legal authority to constitute an absolute title to the land.

3. A title that does not disclose a patent defect that ma require a lawsuit to defend it.

4. A title that is good oth at law and in equity.

5. A title that is good and valid beyond all reasonable doubt. [1]

1. Same as clear title.
     See perfecting title. [3]

  • absolute title (17c) An exclusive title to land; a title that excludes all others not compatible with it.  See fee simple absolute. [1]

presumptive title (17c) A title of the lowest order, arising out of the mere occupation or simple possession of property without any apparent right, or any pretense of right, to hold and continue that possession. [1]


record title (18c) A title as it appears in the public records after the deed is properly recorded. —aka title of record; paper title.

singular title (17c) The title by which one acquires property as a singular successor. 

 tax title (1831) A title to land purchased at a tax sale.

title by descent (17c) A title that one acquires by law as an heir of the deceased owner.

title by devise (1819) A title created by will.

title by estoppel ( 17c) Title acquired from a person who did not have title at the time of a purported conveyance with a warranty but later acquired the title, which then inures to the benefit of the grantee.  Cf. after-acquired title.

title by prescription (17c) A title acquired by prescription.  See PRESCRIPTION (5).

title defective in form (1836) A title for which some defect appears on the face of the deed, as opposed to a defect that arises from circumstances or extrinsic evidence.  *  Title defective in form cannot be the basis of prescription.  See PRESCRIPTION (5).

title of entry (16c) The right to enter onto lands.

universal title (17c) A title acquired by a conveyance causa mortis of a stated portion of all the conveyor’s property interests so that on the conveyor’s death the recipient stands as a universal successor.

voidable title (17c) A valid title that may be annulled by a person with an earlier claim to the property, usu. because title was fraudulently transferred.

wild title – A title that is false or questionable validity.

zombie title (2013) Slang. Title to a property that is the subject of an incomplete and usually long-stalled foreclosure process, leaving legal title and all ownership responsibilities for the property, including maintenance and taxes, on the delinquent debtor, even If it debtor vacates the property in anticipation of eviction.  *  An entity that gives notice of foreclosure need not proceed to foreclose promptly and regain ownership of the property, preferring to leave the debtor legally liable for the property’s expenses whether or not debtor enjoys its ownership.

abstract of title (1858) A concise statement, usually prepared for a morgagee or purchaser of real property, summarizing the history of the piece of land, including all conveyances, interests, liens, and encumbrances that affect title to the property. — aka title examination; examination of title; title abstract; title abstraction; brief; brief of title.

good and merchantable abstract of title (1910) An abstract of title showing clear, good, and marketable title, rather than showing only the history of the property.
     See clear title, good title, and marketable title. 

action to quiet title – to establish a plaintiff’s title to land by compelling the adverse claimant to establish a claim or be forever estopped from asserting it.

abstract of title – 

chain of title – the ownership history of a piece of land, from its first owner to the present one. — aka line of title; string of title.

  • cloud on title – a defect or potential defect in the owners’ title to a piece of land arising from some claim or encumbrance (i.e. a lien, easement, court order).— aka blot on title.

color of title – 

tide covenant for – See covenant for title under COVENANT (4).

document of title – 

indicia of title – 

muniment of title – 

root of title

title clearance (1916) The removal of impediments to the marketability of land, especially through title examinations.

title, warranty of. See warranty of title under WARRANTY (2).

title-and-headings canon – The doctrine that the title and headings of legal instruments, especially statutes, are permissible indicators of meaning. — aka (more narrowly) headings canon.

title clause. A legislative provision setting forth the official name of a statute, and sometimes also a shortened or informal version of its name.

     “Statutes, for the most part, follow traditional lines of form and structure. . . . There is usually a title clause describing more or less accurately the content of the enactment; this clause is made mandatory by constitutional provisions of many of the states.” Burke Shartel, Our Legal System and How It Operates 5 4-19, at 290 (rev. ed. 1971).


title company. See COMPANY.

title covenant See covenant for title under COVENANT (4). title deed. See DEED.

title division Archaic. A common-law system for dividing property acquired during marriage upon the dissolution of the marriage, the divisions being based on who holds legal title to the property.  *  Under title division, when a marriage ends in divorce, property purchased during the marriage is awarded to the person who holds title to the property.  Cf. COMMUNITY PROPERTY; EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION.

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 See FAIR HOUSING ACT.

title-guaranty company See title company under COMPANY.

title insurance See INSURANCE.

title loan See LOAN.

title member See name partner under PARTNER.

title-object clause See CLAUSE.

title of right (1917) A court-issued decree creating, transferring, or extinguishing rights.  *  Examples include a decree of divorce or judicial separation, an adjudication of bankruptcy, a discharge in bankruptcy, a decree of foreclosure against a mortgagor, an order appointing or removing a trustee, and a grant of letters of administra~ tion. In all the examples listed, the judgment 0perates not as a remedy but as a title of right.

title opinion See OPINION (2).

title registration (1971) A system of registering title to land with a public registry, such as a county clerk’s office.  See TORRENS SYSTEM.

title retention (1936) A form of lien, in the nature of a chattel mortgage, to secure payment of a ban given to purchase the secured item.

title search (1965) An examination of the public records to determine whether any defects or encumbrances exist in a given property’s chain of title.   A title search is typically conducted by a title company or a real-estate lawyer at a prospective buyer’s or mortgagee’s request.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – A federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, sex, pregnancy, religion, and national origin, as well as prohibiting retaliation against an employee who opposes illegal harassment or discrimination in the workplace.  *  This term is often referred to simply as Title VII. 42 USCA §§ 2000c et seq.

title standards (1938) Criteria by which a real-estate title can be evaluated to determine whether it is defective or marketable.  *  Many states, through associations of conveyancers and real-estate attorneys, still adhere to title standards.

title theory (1907) Property law. The idea that a mortgage transfers legal title of the property to the mortgagee, who retains it until the mortgage has been satisfied or foreclosed. 0 Only a few American states known as title states, title jurisdictions, or title-theory jurisdictions -have adopted this theory.  Cf. LIEN THEORY.

title transaction (1939) A transaction that affects title to an interest in land.

title unity See unity of title under UNITY.

titulo lucrativo, qui titulus est post contractum debitum [Law Latin] Hist. By a lucrative title, which occurs after the contracting of debt.

titulo singulari [Law Latin] Hist. By a singular title.  *  Those acquiring property by means other than succession held the property under a titulus singularis.

titulo universali [Law Latin] Hist. By a universal title.  *  An heir succeeding to an ancestor’s estate held title titulo universali.

titulus transferendi [Law Latin] Hist. The legal title for transferring. — aka titulus transferrendi.  Cf. MODUS TRANSFERENDI.


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]:  Excerpt from Kent McNeil’s Common Law Aboriginal Title (1989)


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