TITLE DEEDS. A person's right or title to a piece of land is proved by the docu ments called " title deeds." They show in whom the legal estate is vested, and how, through a long course of years, the land has been transferred from one person to another by deed or by will, till finally it is transferred to the present owner. The present owner may have acquired his title to the land in one of several ways, he may have bought the property, or inherited it, or have had it left to him by will, or have had a present made of it, or obtained it through foreclosure of a mortgage.
The greatest interest that a person can have in land is the fee simple, that is he is the absolute owner, and a conveyance to a purchaser of freehold land will include the clause " to have and to hold all the said hereditaments . . . unto and to the use of the said John Brown in fee simple," or unto and to the use of the said John Brown, his heirs and assigns for ever." In such a case the fee simple is vested in John Brown. In the case of an assignment of leasehold property to John Brown, John Brown has the legal estate, but the fee simple remains with the lessor ; and in copyhold land the fee simple is with the lord of the manor.
The possessor of an estate in fee simple may create lesser estates out of it. He may, for example, grant a life interest, or lease it, but so long as he does not transfer the fee simple the reversion remains with him.
If John Brown lodges a parcel of deeds of a freehold estate as security, the deeds and documents should, if they are complete, show that the fee simple is vested in John Brown. The estate may in past years have been sold many times, and been mortgaged and re conveyed, owners may have died and be queathed it by will, or they may have died and left no will, but whatever has been done with the property the fee simple has always been vested in someone. The deeds and documents which Brown has deposited as showing his title to the fee simple should therefore, as far as they go, reveal an un broken line of steps by which the fee simple has come to him. If, after the fee simple was conveyed to Brown, he mortgaged the land to Jones, the legal estate would then be vested in Jones subject to Brown's right to pay off the loan and have the land recon veyed to him. Brown's right to repay the money, or to redeem the land, after the time fixed in the mortgage, usually six months, is called the equity of redemption.
Brown, in that case, has an equitable estate in the land, and Jones has the legal estate.
Where deeds are left as security, whether of freehold, leasehold, or copyhold land, the banker must ascertain if the legal estate in the land is held by the party pledging the deeds.
Along with the deeds there is usually, though not always, an abstract of title. The abstract is prepared by the vendor's solicitor and gives, in order of date, a sum mary of all the deeds, wills or other docu ments, and also all other particulars which are necessary to show the purchaser how his title is derived. The abstract begins with what is called the " root of title," and follows the title step by step till it reaches the vendor. When a sale is arranged it may be agreed in the contract to commence with a certain deed as the root of title, but if no special agreement is made, the purchaser has the right to require evidence of the title for the last forty years, or longer, if necessary, to find a satisfactory beginning. A title of twenty years is often accepted as sufficient. By the Vendor and Purchaser Act, 1874, recitals, statements and descriptions of facts, matters and parties contained in deeds, instruments, acts of Parliament or statutory declarations, twenty years old at the date of the contract, shall, unless and except so far as they shall be proved to be inaccurate, be taken to be sufficient evidence of the truth of such facts, matters and descriptions.
All the deeds and documents which are referred to in the abstract of title may be found in the parcel handed to the banker. but very frequently the deeds which are abstracted will not all be obtainable The abstract shows how the purchaser's title is derived, but not, necessarily, the deeds which are to be given to the purchaser. The purchaser may receive several deeds, for example, the conveyance to himself, the conveyance to the vendor and some deeds prior to the date when the vendor acquired the land ; or the purchaser may perhaps receive only one deed, the conveyance from the vendor, and an abstract of title. The purchaser may look at the abstract and see how the land has been dealt with for forty years past, or for as long as has been agreed upon, but all the deeds and documents relating to the past transactions may for one reason or another be in the possession of other persons.