May 12, 2023


In this comprehensive guide to title insurance, readers will learn about the definition and types of title insurance policies, as well as the benefits they provide. The article also delves into the title insurance process, which includes title search and examination, title commitment, clearing title defects, and policy closing.

Furthermore, it explores common title insurance claim issues such as undiscovered liens, public record errors, boundary disputes, and unknown heirs. Readers will also understand the steps for filing a title insurance claim and resolving them, such as negotiation, settlement, litigation, and payment of losses.

Finally, the article offers advice on preventing future title insurance claims through proper due diligence, consulting with experienced real estate attorneys, and understanding policy coverage and exclusions.

Title Insurance Breakdown

Definition of Title Insurance

Title insurance is a unique form of insurance policy that protects property owners and mortgage lenders against financial loss resulting from defects in the title of a property.

Unlike other insurance types that cover potential future events, title insurance covers past events and their potential impact on the present property ownership. Such defects can include, but are not limited to, liens, easements, encroachments, forgeries, missing heirs, or other undisclosed interests that might have an impact on ownership or the use of the property.

Title insurance is a critical aspect of real estate transactions, providing peace of mind to all parties involved by ensuring that the property’s title is clear and that any disputes or claims that may arise are dealt with by the title insurance company.

Types of Title Insurance Policies

There are two main types of title insurance policies: Owner’s Title Insurance and Lender’s Title Insurance.

  1. Owner’s Title Insurance: Owner’s title insurance policy is usually optional and protects the property owner’s financial interests in the event of a defect in the title. It covers the property owner for as long as they own the property or as long as their heirs have an interest in it. This policy ensures that the property owner’s investment is safe, even if a third party later makes a claim against the title.

    Furthermore, it can cover legal fees associated with defending the title in court and reimburse the property owner for a covered loss.
  2. Lender’s Title Insurance: Lender’s title insurance is typically required by mortgage lenders to protect their interests in a property. If a title defect arises and results in a loss, the lender’s title insurance policy covers the outstanding loan amount. This policy only protects the lender’s interests and does not protect the property owner against title defects.

Benefits of Title Insurance

Title insurance offers numerous benefits to property owners and lenders alike. Some key benefits include:

  1. Protection against financial loss: Title insurance protects property owners and lenders from financial losses resulting from potential defects or claims against the title.

  2. Legal defense coverage: If a dispute arises concerning the title, the title insurance company will assist with legal defense and cover any associated costs, depending on the policy coverage.

  3. Risk mitigation: Title insurance helps minimize the risk in real estate transactions by ensuring that any potential title defects are thoroughly investigated and addressed before closing.

  4. One-time premium: Unlike other insurance policies that require ongoing payments, title insurance is purchased with a one-time premium, providing coverage for the entire duration of the policy.

The Title Insurance Process

Title Search and Examination

The title insurance process begins with a title search and examination. A title agent or attorney searches public records related to the property, including deeds, mortgages, liens, judgments, easements, and other documents that may impact the title.

The purpose of this search is to identify any potential defects, such as unpaid property taxes, outstanding loans, or legal claims that could affect ownership rights.

Issuing a Title Commitment

Once the title search and examination are complete, the title company issues a preliminary report or title commitment.

The title commitment outlines any identified title defects or issues and lists any conditions that must be met before the title insurance policy can be issued. This document serves as a guarantee from the title company that they will issue a policy once any listed conditions are satisfied.

Clearing Title Defects

Before issuing a title insurance policy, any detected defects or issues need to be cleared. This process typically involves resolving outstanding debts, obtaining necessary releases, or correcting errors in the public record. Depending on the nature of the title defect, the buyer, seller, or their agents may be responsible for addressing and resolving these issues.

Purchasing and Closing the Policy

Once the title defects have been cleared, and any conditions of the title commitment are met, the title insurance policy can be purchased.

The one-time premium payment is typically collected at the time of closing the real estate transaction, and the title company issues the policy. At this point, the property owner and/ or their lender are protected by the title insurance policy, offering peace of mind against potential title-related issues in the future.

Common Title Insurance Claim Issues

Title insurance is a crucial purchase when buying a home or property. It protects the buyer and lender from potential losses if there are errors, omissions, fraud, or other issues with the title. Unfortunately, title claims still arise even with title insurance in place.

Let’s examine some of the most common title insurance claim issues that policyholders might face.

Presence of Undiscovered Liens

One common title claim issue is the presence of undiscovered liens on the property. Liens are legal claims against a property that must be paid off when the property is sold. These liens can be placed by previous owners or their creditors and include tax liens, contractor liens, and judgments against the previous owner.

If undisclosed liens are discovered after a property is purchased, the new owner may be held responsible for paying off those debts. This can result in significant financial loss, which is why title insurance is so important.

A title insurance policy will usually cover this type of claim and help the buyer resolve the issue before it becomes a significant burden.

Errors in Public Records

Another common title claim issue is errors in the public records, such as inaccuracies in the property description, incorrect tax information, mistakes in indexing, or missing information about the property’s ownership history.

If these errors are found after the purchase of a property, they can negatively impact the value of the property and may even require the new owner to forfeit their ownership rights.

Title insurance is designed to protect against this kind of issue by providing coverage for any losses that arise due to clerical errors or omissions in public records.

Title insurance companies will typically work with property owners to correct these errors and ensure a clean title is obtained.

Boundary Disputes Issues

Boundary disputes are another common issue that may lead to a title insurance claim. These disputes can arise when the exact property lines are not clear or if a boundary line discrepancy exists between the buyer’s land survey and the neighbor’s property description.

In some cases, this may result in inconsistencies in property lines, encroachments, or even claims that the neighbor has a legitimate right to the buyer’s property.

Title insurance can provide coverage for any expenses associated with resolving boundary disputes and protecting the property owner’s rights. These expenses may include hiring surveyors, obtaining legal advice, or engaging in negotiations with the neighboring property owner.

Fraud and Forgery

Unfortunately, fraud and forgery are not uncommon in real estate transactions. There have been instances of forged deeds, fraudulent impersonation of property owners, or falsified mortgage documents that can lead to significant financial loss for the new property owner.

Title insurance policies generally protect property owners against these issues by covering any losses and expenses that arise as a result of fraud or forgery. The title insurance company will typically work with the property owner to clear the title and help resolve any disputes that arise.

Unrecorded Easements on the Title

Unrecorded easements can also trigger title insurance claims. An easement is a legal right to use someone else’s property for a specific purpose, such as utility lines, shared driveways, or access roads.

Easements that have not been properly recorded on the title can affect the property owner’s rights and may even diminish the overall property value.

Title insurance may help cover the costs of resolving unrecorded easements, including legal fees, negotiation expenses, or even compensation to the property owner for any lost property value.

Unknown Heirs Claims

Lastly, unknown heirs may lead to title insurance claims. When a property is sold or transferred, it is possible that a previously unknown heir, who has a legitimate claim to the property, can come forward. This can cause delays in the sale, legal disputes, and financial losses for the new property owner.

A title insurance policy usually covers the new property owner against any losses resulting from unknown heirs’ claims. The insurance company will work with the property owner to clear the title and help resolve any disputes that arise.

In conclusion, title insurance is an essential purchase for property buyers and serves as a safeguard against a variety of common title issues. By understanding these potential claim issues and ensuring you have adequate title insurance coverage in place, you can help protect your investment and enjoy peace of mind as a property owner.

Filing a Title Insurance Claim

Title insurance is a type of indemnity insurance that protects homeowners and lenders against any losses resulting from defects in a property’s title. These defects could include liens, easements, encroachments, or undisclosed heirs, among other issues that might affect the ownership or value of the property.

Filing a title insurance claim may become necessary when a homeowner or lender discovers a defect in the title that was not identified during the title search process when the policy was issued.

The following sections discuss the steps to follow when filing a title insurance claim.

Notice of the Defect or Issue

The first step in filing a title insurance claim is to provide written notice of the defect or issue to the title insurance company as soon as it is discovered.

Prompt notice is crucial, as most title insurance policies require that claims be reported within a specified time frame, typically 30 to 60 days. Failing to report the issue in a timely manner may result in the denial of the claim.

The written notice should include the policyholder’s contact information, policy number, property address, and a description of the discovered defect or issue. It is a good idea to reference the relevant sections of the policy that pertain to the defect to support the claim.

Preparing and Submitting the Claim

After providing the initial notice, the homeowner or lender must prepare and submit a formal claim. The formal claim should include a statement detailing the nature of the defect, how and when it was discovered, and an explanation of why it is a covered risk under the title insurance policy.

To assist in the preparation of the claim, the policyholder should carefully review the title insurance policy, focusing on the exclusions, conditions, and requirements. This review will help ensure that the claim is based on covered risks and adheres to the policy’s terms and conditions.

Once the claim is prepared, submit it according to the instructions provided by the title insurance company. In most cases, the claim should be sent to the company’s claims department, either by mail or electronically. Be sure to keep a copy of the claim and all supporting documents for personal records.

Documentation and Evidence

To strengthen the title insurance claim and increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome, the policyholder should gather and provide documentation and evidence supporting the claim. This may include copies of the property deed, mortgage documents, title searches, public records, and any other relevant documents related to the defect or issue.

Additionally, it may be beneficial to consult with legal counsel experienced in title insurance claims. The attorney can review the policy and help gather evidence, prepare the claim, and represent the homeowner or lender throughout the process, if necessary.

Claim Evaluation by the Title Insurance Company

Once the title insurance company receives the claim, they will conduct an investigation to determine the validity of the claim and whether it is covered by the policy. This evaluation may involve consulting with their own attorneys, conducting additional title searches, or performing other necessary steps to determine the extent of their liability.

Depending on the title insurance company’s findings, they may offer to settle the claim by compensating the policyholder for their loss or providing a defense in any legal actions resulting from the defect.

Alternatively, the company may deny the claim, citing policy exclusions or other reasons. In the event of a denial, the policyholder may have the right to appeal the decision or pursue alternative remedies, such as litigation.

The title insurance claim process can be complex and time-consuming. It is essential for homeowners and lenders to understand the steps involved, as well as their rights and obligations under the title insurance policy.

Providing prompt notice, submitting a well-prepared claim, and gathering strong documentation and evidence can significantly improve the chances of a successful outcome.

Resolving Title Insurance Claims

Title insurance claims refer to the process of seeking compensation for a loss or damage suffered due to defects in the title of a property that were not discovered during the title search.

Resolving a title insurance claim involves various steps, from negotiating with third parties to working through litigation and legal defense. Let’s discuss each of these steps and provide guidance on how to navigate through the claims process.

Negotiating with Third Parties

When a title defect is discovered, the first step in resolving the claim is to try and negotiate a resolution with any third parties involved. This might include the seller, the lender, or other entities that may have a financial interest in the property.

Finding a compromise that is acceptable to all parties can help avoid lengthy and costly legal battles.

This negotiation process might involve:

  1. Identifying the parties involved – Understanding who is affected by the title defect and who has a vested interest in resolving the issue can help simplify negotiations.

  2. Assessing the title defect – Confirming the validity and scope of the title defect is essential for determining how to proceed with negotiations. It will also help you understand the potential liabilities and consequences for each party involved.

  3. Proposing solutions – Developing viable solutions can help create a more collaborative and constructive negotiation process. Consider the best-case and worst-case scenarios for resolution, as well as potential compromises that may be acceptable to all parties.

  4. Documenting agreements – Once a resolution has been negotiated, it’s essential to document the agreement and ensure both parties understand their responsibilities in fulfilling the terms of the compromise.

Settling the Claim

After negotiating with third parties, the next step in resolving a title insurance claim is to reach a settlement.

This step involves working with the title insurer to determine the monetary value of the claim and agreeing on a payout amount that will compensate for any loss or damage suffered due to the title defect.

During this stage, the title insurer will closely analyze the documentation and evidence provided in the claim. They will look at the specifics of the defect, its impact on the insured, and any costs incurred as a result of the defect.

Once the insurer has concluded that the claim is valid and has assessed the value of the loss, they might offer a settlement amount to the insured. Negotiating a fair and reasonable settlement is crucial to resolving the title insurance claim.

Litigation and Legal Defense

If negotiations and settlement attempts fail to resolve a title insurance claim, litigation may be necessary. Title insurers typically provide legal defense for policyholders facing lawsuits or other legal disputes due to defects in the title.

This can include hiring an attorney to represent the insured and working with them to develop a legal strategy. In addition, the title insurer may cover the costs of legal fees and court expenses, as outlined in the policy terms.

Throughout the litigation process, communication between the insured and the insurer is crucial to ensure a thorough understanding of the proceedings and to have an aligned legal approach.

Payment of Losses and Damages

Once the title insurer has agreed to pay the claim or a judgment has been entered by a court, the final step in resolving the title insurance claim is the payment of losses and damages. The insurer will pay the insured the agreed-upon settlement amount or the court-ordered judgment amount.

This payment is meant to compensate the insured for any financial losses or damages suffered due to the title defect and to rectify the title issue, if possible.

Overall, resolving a title insurance claim can be a lengthy and complex process, involving negotiation, settlement, and potential litigation. However, with effective communication between stakeholders and a clear understanding of the claims process, it’s possible to reach a fair resolution and ensure that the insured’s interests are protected.

Preventing Future Title Insurance Claims

One of the most important aspects of purchasing a property or investing in real estate is to ensure that the property has a clear and legitimate title.

Title insurance is a policy that protects against financial loss and legal disputes arising from title-related issues. These claims can cause significant financial losses and delays in completing the transaction. Therefore, it is crucial to prevent future title insurance claims by taking certain measures. Here are some steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of title claims in the future.

Proper Due Diligence

A thorough and proper investigation of the property title is vital in preventing future title insurance claims. Due diligence involves examining the chain of title, verifying the legal description of the property, and checking for any encumbrances or liens on the title.

Researching the property’s history will help identify any potential issues that may affect the title, such as fraud, forgery, or undisclosed heirs.

Some essential steps in the due diligence process include obtaining and reviewing a preliminary title report, examining the public records related to the property, and studying the property’s legal description and survey.

It is also vital to obtain a title commitment from the title company, which outlines the terms and conditions under which the insurer will issue a title insurance policy. By conducting thorough due diligence, potential issues can be identified and resolved, thereby preventing future claims.

Working with an Experienced Real Estate Attorney

It is essential to work with an experienced real estate attorney throughout the transaction process. An attorney can review the preliminary title report, legal documents, and title commitment to ensure that all potential issues are identified and addressed.

A skilled attorney will also be able to guide you through the due diligence process, negotiate with the seller to resolve any identified issues, and help you understand the legal implications of your decisions.

Furthermore, an attorney can review the title policy to ensure that it provides adequate coverage and address any potential issues. They can also advise you on the claims process should a dispute arise after the transaction has been completed.

By working with an experienced real estate attorney, you can ensure that your interests are protected and minimize the risk of future title insurance claims.

Maintaining a Strong Relationship with Your Title Agent

Title agents play a crucial role in the real estate transaction process, and maintaining a good relationship with them can help you avoid future title insurance claims. A strong relationship with your title agent not only ensures a smooth transaction process but also offers you insights and advice on potential title issues.

Communicate regularly with your title agent and keep them informed about the progress of your transaction. Stay proactive and work closely with your agent to resolve any potential issues that may arise during the transaction.

A collaborative relationship with your title agent can significantly help in addressing potential title problems and prevent future claims.

Understanding Your Policy Coverage and Exclusions

It is crucial to have a thorough understanding of your title insurance policy, including what it covers and the exclusions that apply.

While title insurance policies typically cover unforeseen issues such as fraud, undisclosed liens, and instrument errors, understanding the specific coverages and exclusions in your policy will help you make informed decisions during the transaction process.

Familiarize yourself with the policy language and ask questions about any unclear or unfamiliar terms. It is also essential to review the policy with your real estate attorney, as they will be able to provide you with guidance on the policy’s coverage, limitations, and potential risks.

Being knowledgeable about your title insurance policy will reduce the chances of experiencing unexpected claims in the future.

By following these steps, you can minimize the risk of future title insurance claims and protect your investment in real estate. Proper due diligence, working with an experienced real estate attorney, maintaining a strong relationship with your title agent, and understanding the specifics of your title insurance policy are essential measures to prevent title-related disputes and ensure a smooth and successful transaction.

Title Insurance Claims FAQs

What is a title insurance claim?

A title insurance claim arises when an issue with the title to real property is discovered, potentially affecting the ownership rights. Title insurance policyholders file a claim seeking protection or compensation for financial loss arising from these title disputes.

What are the common reasons for filing a title insurance claim?

Common reasons for filing a title insurance claim include: undiscovered liens, unpaid taxes, fraud or forgery, claims by missing heirs, and issues with legal descriptions of the property. These issues can result in financial loss or legal disputes for the property owner.

How does one submit a title insurance claim?

To submit a title insurance claim, contact the title insurance company that issued the policy. Provide necessary documentation such as the policy, property information, and the nature of the title issue. The insurer will review the claim and determine whether coverage is available under the policy.

How long does it take to resolve a title insurance claim?

The time to resolve a title insurance claim can vary based on the complexity and specific details of the title issue. It could take a few weeks to several months or even longer, as the insurer researches the claim and determines the appropriate resolution, such as curing defects or compensating for financial loss.

What happens if a title insurance claim is denied?

If a title insurance claim is denied, the policyholder may request a detailed explanation from the insurer. Depending on the reason, a policyholder may consider seeking legal advice and pursuing alternative courses of action to resolve the title issue and protect their property rights.

What is the difference between lender’s and owner’s title insurance claims?

Lender’s title insurance claims protect the mortgage lender’s interest in the property, while owner’s title insurance claims provide coverage for the property owner. Both policies address similar title issues, but an owner’s policy typically offers broader protection for the property owner’s financial and legal interests.

About the Author

As a native Washingtonian, Carlos Reyes’ journey in the real estate industry began more than 15 years ago when he started an online real estate company. Since then, he’s helped more than 700 individuals and families as a real estate broker achieve their real estate goals across Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

Carlos now helps real estate agents grow their business by teaching business fundamentals, execution, and leadership.

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