by Dan Krell
Title insurance should not be an enigmatic item listed on the settlement sheet, and there should be no question as to its validity. Here is a very basic attempt at demystifying title insurance and why it is important.
Title insurance, like other forms of insurance, is governed by the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA). Title companies and title attorneys are licensed by the State to sell title insurance.
Title insurance is an assurance that the home buyer receives a clean title from the home seller. Clearing a title of all liens and mortgages is not always an easy task. The first step is for the title attorney to order a title abstract.
A title abstract is simply a synopsis of the chain of title, or a history of ownership, that has been recorded in the office of land records in the county court house. The title abstract indicates all owners, mortgages, liens, encumbrances, and easements attached to the property. The title abstract also indicates previous sales and mortgage and lien satisfactions.
Because all the information in the title abstract is obtained from recorded information, it is inevitable that mistakes occur. For example, it is common for mortgage release letters to be lost, misfiled, or never filed at all. Sometimes there are years of information that is lost or destroyed resulting in a break in the chain of title.
Once received, the title attorney will review the abstract and look for any blemishes including unreleased mortgages or liens and breaks in the chain of title. If there are any blemishes found, they need to be cured before issuing a clean title. The home seller can remedy most blemishes by supplying all required documents or paying to release attached liens and mortgages. Sometimes it may be necessary for the home seller to show their title insurance policy so as to indicate they were given a clean title.
Sometimes there are items not filed in the office of land records that may affect the ownership of your home. Some of these items may be heirs of previous owners or undocumented lien holders who may make claim to your home. Title insurance can protect you from these claims. It is rare, but making a claim with the title insurance company can resolve these issues.
If you are obtaining a mortgage to purchase the home, your lender will require “lender’s coverage” title insurance. The lender’s coverage protects the lender in case there are any unrecorded liens, easements, or other unrecorded defects.
Just as in other insurance policies there are different levels of coverage of title insurance. A basic owner’s title insurance policy typically assures clear title to the property and covers against incorrect signatures, on documents, forgery, fraud, and defective recordation of covenants, encumbrances or judgments.
Extended coverage may include coverage for building permit violations from previous owners, covenant violations from previous owners, living trusts, and a variety of encroachments and forgeries. Title insurance does not cover against liens placed after the effective date of the policy.
Some policies cost more than others because of the difference in title insurance companies and levels of coverage. When comparing title companies, you should also ask about title insurance coverage and rates. You can access more information about title insurance at the MIA website, www.mdinsurance.state.md.us.
This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This column was origiinally published 12/18/2006 in the Montgomery County Sentinel. Copyright © 2006 Dan Krell.