Why Your Deed May Be No Good in My State

By Bruce A. McDonald

The internet covers the world, and through it, people can find legal forms from all 50 of the United States. A deed good in California should be good in Florida, right? After all, it’s all one country, right?

No, not true. We may live in the United States of America, but when it comes to many types of laws, we do not live in the Uniform States of America. One of those laws covers deeds, and so unknown to most people, including many lawyers, deeds in California require a notary public but no witnesses, deeds in Florida require two witnesses plus a notary, and Georgia deeds require one witness plus a notary. So if one just searches the world wide web for a “deed form,” or picks up a sample deed from one state, it may or may not be the right form for your state. Sadly, even attorneys sometimes forget or were never taught that each state’s laws can be different, so they prepare a deed for use in another state, assuming what’s good in their state will be good in all states. That would be wrong.

Another variation in law is whether a deed to a husband and wife creates a survivorship form of ownership without the words “with right of survivorship.” In Florida, those words are not required, but they could be required in another state.

And in Florida, those words “with right of survivorship” are necessary to create that kind of ownership between two other owners, not husband and wife. Again, not true in all states.

Some states allow a “beneficiary deed” which does not change title until the death of the owner, at which time title is transferred to the deed beneficiary without probate. Florida law does not allow that.

Are you getting the picture? Some laws, like federal income tax, bankruptcy, and immigration, are set by Congress and are the same in all states. Other laws, like probate, real estate, auto accidents, and divorce, are set by the state legislatures and courts and can be as different from state to state – as different as night is to day.

So when it comes to your real property: don’t use deed forms from the internet or from another state until they have been approved by someone familiar with the law of your state, preferably a Florida Probate Lawyer. Using the wrong form can create a giant legal mess.