Forgiving Bad Deeds: When Are Errors in Deeds and Other Real Estate Documents No Longer a Problem?

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Many errors or omissions made in deeds and other real estate documents affecting land ownership are no longer a problem after the paperwork has been on record at the registry of deeds for at least ten years. This rule is set out in M.G.L. c. 184, Section 24 entitled “Defects, Irregularities or Omissions in Deeds; Curative Period.”

The statute lists the errors or omissions that are cured by this ten-year period. They include any irregularity or omission that fails to comply in any respect with any requirement of law relating:

to seals, corporate or individual,

to the validity of acknowledgment,

to certificate of acknowledgment,

witnesses,

attestation,

proof of execution, or time of execution,

to recitals of consideration, residence, address, or date,

to the authority of a person signing for a corporation who purports to be the president or treasurer or a principal officer of the corporation.

After the deed is on record for ten years, provided the validity of the document has not been disputed during that time, it becomes “effective for all purposes to the same extent as though the instrument and record thereof had originally not been subject to the defect, irregularity or omission.”

This rule applies only to documents recorded in the registry of deeds and it doesn’t apply to those registered with Land Court.

In addition to the ten-year curative statute, Real Estate Bar Association (REBA) Title Standard No. 21 on Scrivners’ Errors gives additional leeway for mistakes and omissions. It states,

A title is not defective by reason of:

(1) The omission or addition of a middle or first initial or name of an individual or minor
variation in the spelling of names;

(2) The change of the name of a person as a result of marriage, or judicial change of name (in the
latter case, reference should be made to the court and date of judgment);

(3) Minor variations from the correct name of a corporation, trust, limited
partnership, limited liability company, limited liability partnership or other legal
entity, such as the omission or addition of “The” or the interchange of the long form entity name
with the abbreviated form;

(4) Inconsistencies in, or lack of dates of, execution and acknowledgement;

(5) Minor errors in area or in distances of bounds or the omission of one bound or incorrect
compass points in a description, especially if the correct lot number and plan reference or
reference to title are included in the description;

or

(6) The omission of, or an erroneous reference to, either the date or the record
reference (but not both) to a mortgage in the case of an assignment, partial release, or
discharge of such mortgage.

For additional, in-depth discussion see the following cases:

Gillespie v. Rogers, 46 Mass. 610, 16 NE. 711, and Laney v. Snow. 180 Mass.
411, 62 NE. 735, as to omissions, additions and variations in names of
individuals;

Harrison v. Phillips Academy, 12 Mass. 456,

Ashkenazy v. R.M Bradley & Co., 328 Mass. 242, 103 NE.2d 251, and Dresel v. Jordan. 104 Mass. 407, as to inconsistencies in or lack of dates; and

Worthington v. Hyler. 4 Mass. 196, as to minor errors and omissions in
descriptions.

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