May 2, 2023


In this comprehensive article, readers will learn about title insurance, including its definition, purpose, types of policies, and coverage options. The article also explores common title defects and risks, such as ownership and encumbrance issues, liens and judgments, easements and encroachments, and errors in documents and records.

Additionally, the article covers the title insurance claims process, from identifying a title defect or risk to the role of the title insurance company, and how claims are resolved through payment, legal defense, curative actions or alternative dispute resolution. Lastly, tips and best practices for preventing title insurance claims are discussed.

Understanding Title Insurance

Title insurance is an essential aspect of real estate transactions, providing protection to both property buyers and lenders. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of title insurance, including its definition, purpose, types, and key players.

Definition and Purpose

Title insurance is a type of indemnity insurance policy that protects property owners and lenders against financial loss due to defects in the title to real property. Real property refers to land and any structures attached to it. The title represents the legal right to own, use, control, and dispose of the property. Defects in the title may include liens, easements, encroachments, and other issues that can affect the clear ownership of the property.

The primary purpose of title insurance is to protect property owners and lenders from unforeseen complications that may arise with a property’s title, providing them with peace of mind during real estate transactions. Unlike other types of insurance, title insurance covers past events that have already occurred and may not be known to the property owner or lender, rather than protecting against future events.

Additionally, title insurance can help property owners avoid expensive litigation and financial loss in the event of title disputes or claims. It ensures that the property owner has a clear and marketable title, which is essential when selling or refinancing real estate.

Types of Title Insurance Policies

There are two primary types of title insurance policies: owner’s policies and lender’s policies. Each policy has unique features and serves different purposes.

  1. Owner’s Title Insurance: This type of policy protects the property owner from financial loss due to defects in the title. It covers the property’s purchase price and includes various protections, such as covering attorney fees and other legal costs if a claim arises. Owner’s title insurance can protect against a range of title issues, including fraud, forgery, undisclosed heirs, and other defects that might jeopardize ownership. An owner’s policy is usually purchased during the real estate transaction and lasts for as long as the owner, or their heirs, hold an interest in the property.

  2. Lender’s Title Insurance: This policy protects the lender’s financial interest in the property. As a condition for providing a mortgage loan, most lenders require borrowers to purchase lender’s title insurance. This policy protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on the loan due to title issues. Lender’s title insurance also covers the lender’s legal fees in the event of title-related disputes. Typically, the coverage lasts for the duration of the mortgage, decreasing as the loan is paid off and eventually expiring when the mortgage is fully paid.

It’s important to note that while lender’s title insurance is often required by mortgage lenders, owner’s title insurance is generally optional. However, obtaining an owner’s policy is strongly recommended to protect the property owner’s interests and financial well-being.

Key Players in Title Insurance

There are several key players in the title insurance industry:

  1. Title Insurance Companies: These companies underwrite and issue title insurance policies. They conduct comprehensive title searches, examine public records, and identify potential title defects before issuing a policy. Title insurance companies are responsible for the financial risks associated with title defects and claims, and often have legal teams that resolve disputes on behalf of policyholders.

  2. Title Agents: Also known as closing or escrow agents, title agents work on behalf of title insurance companies. They serve as intermediaries between the buyer, seller, lender, and title insurance company during real estate transactions. Title agents help coordinate the closing process, ensuring that all necessary documents are signed and that funds are appropriately disbursed.

  3. Real Estate Attorneys: In some states, real estate attorneys are required to be involved in the title search and examination process. Attorneys can also represent buyers or sellers in title-related disputes or litigation, and may work closely with the title insurance company to resolve any issues.

Overall, understanding title insurance is crucial for both property buyers and lenders in real estate transactions. By obtaining a title insurance policy, all parties can have peace of mind while making one of the most significant financial decisions of their lives.

Title Insurance Coverage

Title insurance is a type of protection that safeguards real estate owners and lenders from potential financial loss due to unknown defects or encumbrances in the title of a property. It helps ensure the legality and validity of the property title.

When you purchase title insurance, you are not just insuring the present situation of the property’s title, but also any future issues that may arise after the closing of the sale. Title insurance coverage comes in various forms, each designed to address specific issues and requirements.

Standard Exceptions

Standard exceptions are common exclusions from coverage in title insurance policies. These exceptions refer to title defects or issues that may arise due to the policyholder’s actions or omissions during the ownership of the property. Some of the most common standard exceptions include:

  1. Taxes and assessments: Title insurance policies generally do not cover issues related to unpaid taxes or assessments on the property. This is because these financial obligations are usually the responsibility of the property owner and not the insurer.

  2. Easements and rights of way: Easements, rights of way, and other rights granted by the property owner to other parties are typically excluded from title insurance coverage. These can include utility lines, shared driveways, or access rights for neighboring properties. It’s essential to understand any existing easements on the property before purchasing title insurance to ensure you are aware of any potential limitations or restrictions.

  3. Survey issues: Title insurance policies typically do not address any discrepancies or disputes concerning the property’s boundaries, measurements, or area. A survey is often required as part of the home buying process to confirm the boundaries and identify any potential encroachments or easements.

Extended Coverage

Extended coverage title insurance provides additional protection beyond the standard policy, addressing some of the common exclusions and exceptions found in a basic title insurance policy. This type of coverage is particularly beneficial for property owners looking for more comprehensive protection against potential title issues. Some common elements of extended coverage include:

  1. Encroachments: This extended coverage insures against potential encroachments, such as structures or improvements built across property boundaries, which can create disputes and legal issues for the property owner.

  2. Mineral rights: Extended coverage may also address issues related to mineral rights, such as underground resources like oil, gas, or minerals. These rights can be crucial for property owners in areas with valuable natural resources, as they can impact property values and future development.

  3. Survey coverage: Some extended coverage policies offer protection against survey issues, such as inaccuracies, boundary disputes, or encroachments, providing additional security for property owners.

Endorsements and Additional Coverage

Title insurance policies can be customized to meet the specific needs of a property owner or lender by adding endorsements or additional coverage. These endorsements can address unique circumstances, extending coverage to include certain risks that would otherwise be excluded in a standard policy. Some common endorsements and additional coverage options include:

  1. Condominium endorsement: This endorsement specifically addresses issues related to condominium ownership, such as common elements and the homeowner’s association.

  2. Environmental lien endorsement: This endorsement provides coverage for potential environmental liens on the property, which can arise from unpaid fines or penalties due to environmental violations.

  3. Variable rate mortgage endorsement: This endorsement protects lenders from title issues resulting from variable or adjustable-rate mortgages, such as interest rate changes.

  4. Restrictive covenant endorsement: This endorsement addresses restrictive covenants on the property, which can include limitations on the use or development of the land, impacting the property’s value.

  5. Zoning endorsement: This endorsement provides coverage for issues related to zoning compliance and potential zoning changes, which can significantly impact the property’s value and use.

In conclusion, title insurance plays a crucial role in protecting property owners and lenders from potential financial losses due to title defects or unknown issues affecting the property title. Understanding the standard exceptions, extended coverage options, and endorsements available for your title insurance policy will ensure you have the necessary protection and peace of mind for your property investment.

Common Title Defects and Risks

When purchasing real estate, one of the most critical aspects of the transaction is the examination and clear understanding of the property’s title, which serves as evidence of legal ownership.

Title defects or risks can have serious consequences for property buyers, potentially leading to legal disputes, financial loss, or even loss of ownership rights. Therefore, it is essential for prospective property buyers or investors to be knowledgeable about common title defects and risks.

Ownership and Encumbrance Issues

Ownership issues involve disputes or discrepancies over who rightfully possesses legal rights to a property, while encumbrance issues pertain to financial or legal burdens that may restrict a property owner’s rights or impact the property’s value negatively. Both types of issues can be devastating for property owners and may render a title unmarketable, meaning it cannot be sold or transferred without correcting the defects.

Common ownership issues include:
– Multiple claims to ownership, which can result from the sale of property to multiple parties, or inheritance disputes among family members.
– Unrecorded or improperly recorded deeds, which lead to uncertainty regarding the proper owner.
– Fraudulent deeds or forgery, where one person falsely claims to be the property’s rightful owner.

In the case of encumbrance issues, these can include:
– Property tax liens, which result from the nonpayment of property taxes.
– Restrictive covenants or conditions, which are agreements that limit a property owner’s use of the land, such as a prohibition against certain activities or construction types.

Liens and Judgments

A lien is a legal claim on a property used as security for a debt. When a property owner fails to pay their financial obligations, such as property taxes, mortgage, or loan payments, creditors may file a lien against the property. The property cannot be sold, refinanced, or transferred until the debt is settled, and the lien is removed.

Judgments are court decrees that establish legal rights and obligations in a dispute. These can also create a lien on a property. Common judgments that can impact property titles include divorce settlements, child support obligations, and personal injury or property damage awards.

It is crucial to identify and resolve any outstanding liens and judgments during the title examination process, as they can significantly impact the transfer of property ownership rights and may even lead to foreclosure if left unaddressed.

Easements and Encroachments

Easements grant another party the right to use a portion of a property owner’s land for a specific purpose, such as access to a neighboring parcel, utility lines, or drainage. While easements typically do not negatively affect the property’s value, they can restrict the landowner’s use or development of the affected portion.

Encroachments occur when a neighboring property owner intrudes upon the land of another, such as a fence or structure built across property boundaries. Encroachments can lead to disputes and potential adverse possession claims, which can result in a loss of property ownership rights if not resolved.

When reviewing a property title, it is essential to identify and evaluate any easements and encroachments that may impact the property’s use, value, or ownership rights.

Errors in Documents and Records

Errors in property records or legal documents, such as deeds or surveys, can lead to title defects or risks. These errors may include incorrect property descriptions, improperly executed documents, or typographical mistakes that may cause confusion or disputes over property ownership rights.

To prevent such issues, it is imperative to hire a professional title examiner or attorney to review all available title records, documents, and surveys thoroughly. Additionally, the purchase of title insurance can protect a property buyer from potential financial loss or legal disputes resulting from title defects or risks that may have been overlooked during the title examination process.

Title Insurance Claims Process

Title insurance is a type of indemnity insurance that protects a property owner and/or the lender against financial loss resulting from defects in the title to the property or encumbrances affecting the property, such as liens or title defects.

The process of filing a claim and resolving title insurance issues involves a series of steps that both the property owner and the title insurance company must undertake.

Identifying a Title Defect or Risk

The first step in the title insurance claims process is identifying a potential title defect or risk that may affect your property ownership rights. This can occur when you discover an issue that could result in a financial loss or legal liability, such as a lien, an easement or an undisclosed heir to the property. Some common title defects include:

  1. Errors in public records: These can include errors in recording property transactions, misindexed documents, and incorrect legal descriptions.

  2. Unknown liens: Previous owners may have neglected to pay taxes, contractors or other creditors, resulting in liens against the property.

  3. Illegal deeds: If a prior deed in your property’s chain of title was made by an undocumented immigrant, a minor, or someone who didn’t have the legal authority to transfer the property, it may affect your ownership rights.

  4. Encroachments: A neighbor’s structure or other improvements may unintentionally extend onto your property, causing a boundary dispute and potentially affecting your property’s value.

  5. Undisclosed easements: Easements granting rights of use or access to the property, such as utility or sewer lines, may not have been recorded or may have been incorrectly recorded in the chain of title.

In order to successfully file a title insurance claim, you must be able to clearly identify and document the potential title defect.

Filing a Title Insurance Claim

Once you identify a potential title defect, it’s time to file a claim with the title insurance company. This should be done as soon as possible, typically within 90 days of discovering the issue. The claim process may vary depending on your title insurer, but it generally involves notifying the company in writing of the potential defect and providing any relevant information or documentation. Be sure to keep a copy of your correspondence for your own records.

Your claim should detail the nature of the defect or risk, how and when you discovered it, and why it was not discovered during the title search performed prior to closing on the property. It is important to provide clear and concise information in your claim to ensure the insurance company fully understands the basis of your claim and can take appropriate action.

Required Documentation and Information

When filing a title insurance claim, you may be required to provide some or all of the following documentation and information:

  1. A copy of your title insurance policy.

  2. Documentation that supports the existence of the title defect, such as a recorded lien or easement, a survey showing encroachments, or evidence of an undisclosed heir.

  3. Records of your communications with the parties involved in the dispute, such as correspondence with neighbors, liens holders or other claimants.

  4. Any legal documents or correspondence related to the title issue.

  5. Proof of financial loss, such as estimates for removing liens or encroachments.

By providing thorough documentation with your claim, you make it easier for the title insurance company to evaluate the issue and take appropriate action.

Role of the Title Insurance Company

Once a claim is filed, the title insurance company will take steps to investigate and rectify the issue. The company will conduct its own research and may request additional information or documentation from you to support their investigation. Their objective is to resolve the title defect or risk, protect your property ownership rights and minimize any financial losses.

Possible actions taken by the title insurance company include:

  1. Negotiating with claimants: The insurer may work with third parties who have a claim against the property to resolve the issue, such as negotiating and paying off liens or easements.

  2. Litigation: If necessary, the title insurance company may pursue legal action on your behalf to resolve the title defect or risk, including defending your ownership rights in court.

  3. Coverage and compensation: If a financial loss occurs as a result of the title defect or risk, the title insurance policy may cover the loss up to the policy limit, minus any deductible.

Throughout the claims process, the title insurance company should maintain communication with you, keeping you informed of their progress and any relevant developments. It is crucial to actively participate in the process, providing any necessary documentation and information as requested by the insurer.

Resolving Title Insurance Claims

Title insurance provides protection to property owners and lenders against any defects or problems relating to the title of the property. Resolving title insurance claims is a critical process that helps address the issues affecting an insured’s property interest. The procedure for resolving title insurance claims can be complex, and understanding the different options for resolution can make the process more manageable.

Payment of Loss or Damage

Upon receiving a claim, the title insurance company assesses the merits and potential damages incurred by the insured. If the company determines that the title issue is valid and the insured will suffer financial losses, the company will compensate the insured for their loss. This compensation can come in different forms, such as a lump-sum payment or a series of installments, depending on the policy terms and the severity of the claim.

The amount of compensation paid to the insured depends on various factors, such as the policy limits, the insured’s interest in the property, and the extent of the title defect. The compensation must adequately restore the insured’s property rights and protect them from future claims. However, the title insurance company will only cover losses up to the amount specified in the policy. If the damages exceed the policy limits, the insured might have to bear the excess cost.

Legal Defense and Litigation

In some cases, the title insurance company may need to defend the insured’s property rights against a third-party claim. The company will appoint and pay for an attorney to represent the insured in these title disputes. This appointed attorney will provide legal assistance and advice throughout the litigation process, protecting the insured against any adverse judgements or conclusions that may arise from the dispute.

Title insurance companies may also choose to initiate legal actions against third parties to resolve potential defects. For example, if a fraudster forged a signature on a deed, the title insurance company may sue the fraudster to revoke the forged document and restore the insured’s property rights. Legal defense and litigation are essential aspects of title insurance, as they provide protection against potential legal challenges to the insured’s property rights.

Curative Actions and Title Clearance

Another approach to resolving title insurance claims is through curative actions. These include corrective measures such as filing corrective documents to rectify errors in the chain of title or obtaining court orders to resolve ambiguities in title documents. Such curative actions help restore the insured’s title to a marketable and insurable condition.

Title clearance refers to the process of removing existing liens, encumbrances, or defects from the property’s title. The title insurance company may work with the parties involved, like lienholders or claimants, to negotiate settlements or satisfy their claims. The goal is to eliminate any encumbrances and protect the insured’s property rights, enabling the owner to sell or transfer their property free of potential title disputes.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

In some instances, the parties involved in a title insurance claim may choose alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods to resolve their issues without resorting to litigation. ADR methods like mediation or arbitration can save time, reduce costs, and maintain positive relationships between the parties.

Mediation involves a neutral third party facilitating discussions and negotiations between the disputing parties to reach a mutually agreeable solution. The mediator does not enforce or decide the resolution but helps guide the parties toward a compromise.

Arbitration, on the other hand, resembles a more formal court process. The arbitrator, a neutral third party, hears both sides of the dispute and makes a binding decision on the matter. The parties must comply with the arbitrator’s decision, and there is limited room for an appeal.

In conclusion, resolving title insurance claims can involve different approaches, including payment of loss or damage, legal defense and litigation, curative actions and title clearance, and alternative dispute resolution methods. Understanding these options can help property owners and lenders navigate the complexities of resolving title insurance claims and protect their property rights.

Preventing Title Insurance Claims

To prevent title insurance claims, it is essential to be proactive in addressing potential issues before they become problems. By conducting a thorough title search, reviewing and addressing title exceptions, obtaining proper endorsements and coverage, and maintaining accurate property records, you can minimize the likelihood of future title insurance claims.

Conducting a Thorough Title Search

A comprehensive title search is the foundation of any title insurance policy. The purpose of a title search is to uncover any existing liens, encumbrances, unpaid taxes, or other title issues that could pose a risk to your ownership rights. By conducting a meticulous title search, you can identify and address any potential problems before they lead to title insurance claims.

When conducting a title search, be sure to review various sources of information, including public records, title abstracts, and historical documents such as deeds and wills. Pay particular attention to legal descriptions of the property, including boundary lines, easements, and encroachments. Additionally, check for any pending litigation, judgments, or other matters that could impact your title to the property.

If your title search uncovers any potential issues, consult with a real estate attorney or title insurance professional to determine the best course of action. In some cases, this may involve clearing the title through legal proceedings, negotiating with lienholders, or obtaining title insurance that specifically covers the identified issue.

Reviewing and Addressing Title Exceptions

Title exceptions are specific items that are excluded from coverage under a title insurance policy. Common title exceptions include easements, mineral rights, and building restrictions, among others. By reviewing the title exceptions listed in your policy and addressing any associated risks or concerns, you can help prevent future title insurance claims related to these exceptions.

To mitigate the risk of claims stemming from title exceptions, work with your title insurance provider and legal counsel to identify any issues or uncertainties surrounding these exceptions. If necessary, consider obtaining additional endorsements or coverage to address the specific risks posed by these exceptions. By being proactive in addressing title exceptions, you can reduce the likelihood of future disputes or claims related to these issues.

Obtaining Proper Endorsements and Coverage

Another important aspect of preventing title insurance claims is ensuring that you have the appropriate endorsements and coverage in place. Endorsements are additions, amendments, or supplements to a title insurance policy that modify or expand the policy’s coverage to address specific risks or issues. By obtaining the necessary endorsements, you can ensure that your title insurance policy provides the protection you need.

Some common endorsements include those that cover access issues, encroachments, or zoning and land use concerns. To determine which endorsements are appropriate for your situation, consult with your title insurance provider and legal counsel. They can help identify any gaps or exposures in your policy and recommend endorsements or additional coverage to address these risks.

Maintaining Accurate Property Records

Lastly, maintaining accurate property records is essential for preventing title insurance claims. By keeping your property records up to date and organized, you can make it easier to identify and address any potential title issues before they become problems.

It is essential to keep track of all documents related to your property, including deeds, surveys, permits, and title policies. Additionally, be sure to update your records promptly if any changes occur, such as the addition of new liens or easements. You should also maintain copies of any correspondence related to your property, particularly if there are title issues that may evolve into potential claims.

In conclusion, preventing title insurance claims requires a proactive approach that includes conducting thorough title searches, addressing title exceptions, obtaining proper endorsements and coverage, and maintaining accurate property records. By taking these steps, you can minimize the likelihood of future title insurance claims and protect your ownership rights in the property.

Title Insurance Claims FAQs

1. What is a title insurance claim, and when can one file it?

A title insurance claim is a formal request made by a policyholder to recover losses incurred due to a defect in the title of their property. You can file such a claim when you discover an issue that affects your ownership rights, such as a lien, encroachment, or undisclosed heir.

2. How is the process of filing a title insurance claim initiated?

To begin the claims process, policyholders must submit a written notice to their title insurance provider. This notice should include pertinent information such as the policy number, property location, and a detailed explanation of the defect or issue affecting the property’s title.

3. What potential challenges might one encounter during a title insurance claim process?

Challenges encountered during the claims process can include delays in processing, disputes stemming from the interpretation of your policy, or the denial of your claim. Additionally, some defects might be excluded from coverage, complicating the resolution process.

4. What actions can be taken if a title insurance claim is denied?

If your claim is denied, you can negotiate with your title insurer to reach a resolution or seek legal counsel and potentially file a lawsuit against the insurer. It is essential to understand the specific terms and exclusions within your policy before taking any action.

5. How can one prevent potential title insurance claims?

To prevent potential claims, conduct thorough due diligence during the property purchase process. This includes reviewing title reports, obtaining a comprehensive title search, and examining public records for potential issues or discrepancies that could impact your property’s title.

6. Are legal fees and other expenses covered by title insurance in a claims scenario?

Yes, title insurance typically covers legal fees and other expenses related to resolving covered title issues or defects. However, policyholders should consult their policy to determine specific coverage levels and conditions associated with such expenses.

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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