June 27, 2023


Claims by previous owners or their heirs refer to legal disputes that arise when a current property owner is challenged by someone who claims to have prior rights to the property.

These claims can arise from a variety of legal issues, including disputes over inherited property or disagreements over the terms of a previous sale. Anytime a property changes hands, there is the potential for ownership claims to arise, which can lead to costly and time-consuming legal battles.

In this article, we will explore the various types of claims that can be made by previous owners or their heirs and the steps that can be taken to address these challenges.



Claims by previous owners or their heirs refer to legal actions taken by individuals or entities who believe they have a valid right to certain property or assets that were once owned by their ancestors or predecessors.

These claims can arise decades or even centuries after the initial sale or transfer of the property, and they can be based on a variety of factors such as inheritance laws, improperly executed contracts, or fraudulent transfers. Essentially, a claimant argues that they have a superior right of ownership compared to the current possessors of the property.

Claims by previous owners or their heirs can be highly contentious and complex legal battles that require extensive research, documentation, and legal expertise.


Examples of claims made by previous owners or their heirs can vary depending on the property and the circumstances surrounding the claim. One common example is when an heir to a property claims that they have inherited the property and therefore have the right to sell it.

This can be a complicated process because it involves determining if the heir has legal ownership of the property. Another example is when a previous owner claims that a property was taken from them illegally and demands its return. This type of claim can arise when a property was seized during a war or revolution.

It can be challenging to determine the validity of these types of claims, especially if there is little documentation available to support them. Finally, another example is when a previous owner sues a new owner for damages or losses that were incurred as a result of the new owner’s actions.

This could include damage to the property or loss of income due to changes made by the new owner. These cases can be complex and often require the involvement of legal experts to resolve. Overall, claims made by previous owners or their heirs are an important consideration when buying or selling a property, and it is essential to understand the potential legal implications that they may have.

Types of Claims

Inheritance Claims

Claims made by heirs of previous owners, also known as inheritance claims, are a common issue that arises in the real estate industry. Inheritance claims are made when the previous owner of a property passes away, and their heirs claim the property as their own.

In most cases, inheritance claims are resolved without any major issues. However, there are situations where multiple heirs claim ownership of a property, which can create complex legal disputes. One of the most significant issues that arise in inheritance claims is the division of the property among the heirs.

The division of the property can be a complicated process, as each heir may have different ideas regarding the property’s use, maintenance, and sale. Additionally, inheritance claims may involve complex legal proceedings as the claimants may need to prove their right to the property. It is vital to resolve inheritance claims timely to minimize legal and financial complications.

Proper estate planning and clear instructions on how the property will be divided after the previous owner’s death can help prevent inheritance claims. However, if inheritance claims do arise, it is recommended to seek legal assistance to ensure a fair and lawful resolution.

Title Claims

Claims made by previous owners regarding the title of the property are not uncommon. Title claims refer to disputes over who has the rightful ownership of a property. These types of claims can arise from a variety of issues including fraudulent transfers, errors in prior transactions, or competing claims over the same property.

In situations where the rightful owner of a property is not clear, it is essential to resolve any title claims before closing on a transaction. Title claims can be particularly challenging to address because they involve legal and financial considerations that require expertise.

It is important for potential buyers to work with a qualified real estate attorney and conduct a thorough title search to determine the ownership history of a property and identify any potential claims. Buyers may also want to consider purchasing title insurance to protect themselves from any unforeseen title issues that may arise in the future.

Possession Claims

Possession claims are one of the most common types of claims made by previous owners or their heirs. This refers to disputes over possession of the property, which can arise for a variety of reasons.

For example, a previous owner may claim that they still have a right to occupy the property even though they have sold it, or an heir may challenge the current owner’s claim to the property based on the fact that their ancestor never intended to give up possession.

Possession claims can be complex and difficult to resolve, often requiring extensive legal proceedings and careful examination of the relevant evidence.

In some cases, possession claims may involve a dispute over the boundaries of the property. This can occur when there is ambiguity or disagreement over where the property begins and ends, leading to disputes over who has the right to occupy certain areas.

Other possession claims may arise due to issues related to tenancy or leasehold agreements. For example, a tenant may claim that they have a right to remain in the property even after their lease has expired, leading to a dispute with the new owner.

When it comes to resolving possession claims, there are several legal options available. One is to negotiate a settlement between the parties involved, which may involve agreeing to a new boundary line or revising the terms of a tenancy agreement.

Another option is to take the matter to court, where a judge will hear both sides of the argument and make an impartial decision based on the evidence presented. Ultimately, the outcome of a possession claim will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the strength of the evidence presented by both sides.

Encumbrance Claims

Encumbrance claims are among the most common types of claims by previous owners of a property. An encumbrance is any legal claim or liability that affects the property’s title, such as a mortgage or lien. When a property changes hands, it is crucial to ensure that all encumbrances are cleared before completing the transfer of ownership.

Failure to clear an encumbrance can result in legal disputes between the current and previous owners and can negatively affect the property’s value. Previous owners may also file encumbrance claims to recover any costs associated with the encumbrance or to restrict the use of the property by the current owner.

It is essential to seek legal advice when dealing with encumbrance claims to understand the full legal implications of the situation and to determine the best course of action to resolve the issue.

Legal Implications

Statute of Limitations

Statute of limitations refers to the laws that prescribe the time limits within which a legal action must be taken. Any claim regarding ownership of property is subject to a statute of limitations. In regards to claims by previous owners or their heirs, the statute of limitations is especially relevant.

If a previous owner or heir is seeking to reclaim property after a sale or transfer, they must bring their claim within the specified time limit. This time limit is set by state law and varies depending on the state.

Failure to bring the claim within the time limit will result in a barred claim, meaning the claim will not be heard by the court. It is important to note that the statute of limitations begins to run from the date the cause of action accrues.

In the context of claims regarding property ownership, this means the date on which the claimant became aware or should have become aware of their potential claim. The burden of proving whether the claim was brought within the statute of limitations falls on the claimant. Therefore, it is important to seek legal counsel early on when making a claim regarding property ownership.

Burden of Proof

In any legal dispute, the burden of proof falls on the person making the claim. This means that they are responsible for presenting evidence in support of their claim, and convincing a judge or jury of its merit.

In the case of claims by previous owners or their heirs, the burden of proof can be particularly complex. Depending on the circumstances and the specific laws governing the claim, the burden of proof could fall on either party.

One important factor to consider is the statute of limitations. This refers to the time limits for making claims, and can vary widely depending on the jurisdiction and type of claim. If a claimant waits too long to file their claim, they may be barred from seeking relief altogether.

In some cases, the burden of proof may be shifted to the defendant if the claimant can show that they were prevented from filing their claim within the statutory period.

Another factor to consider is the nature of the evidence required to prove the claim. In some cases, the claimant may be required to provide documentary evidence or other physical evidence to support their claim.

In other cases, the burden of proof may be more subjective, relying on witness testimony or other circumstantial evidence to establish the validity of the claim.

Regardless of the specifics of the case, it is important for all parties involved to consult with a qualified legal professional to understand their rights and obligations. A competent attorney can help guide them through the complex legal landscape and ensure that they are taking the appropriate steps to protect their interests.


Preventing Claims

Title Search

Conducting a thorough title search is an essential step before purchasing any property. It involves a detailed examination of public records to determine the history of ownership and any potential claims or encumbrances on the property.

The title search may reveal issues such as liens, judgments, mortgages, or easements that could affect the property’s value or the buyer’s ability to obtain a clear title. It is crucial to hire a qualified title company or attorney to conduct the search and provide a title report that identifies any defects or clouds on the title.

The title report should also include a description of any legal restrictions or zoning regulations that could affect the property’s use. As a buyer, it is vital to review the title report thoroughly and ask questions about any potential issues.

Failing to conduct a proper title search could result in expensive legal disputes or even the loss of the property altogether. Therefore, investing time and money into a thorough title search is crucial to avoid any future legal battles and ensure a smooth transaction process.

Title Insurance

One of the most common methods of protecting against claims made by previous owners or their heirs is by purchasing title insurance. Title insurance is a type of insurance that provides coverage for any defects in the title of a property.

This can include claims made by previous owners or their heirs, as well as claims made by creditors, tax authorities, or other parties. In order to obtain title insurance, a buyer typically needs to conduct a thorough title search to ensure that the property has a clear title.

A title search involves examining public records to identify any liens, encumbrances, or other issues that could impact the title of a property. Once the title search is complete, the buyer can purchase title insurance to protect against any claims that may arise in the future.

Title insurance is typically purchased at the time of closing and is a one-time cost that provides coverage for as long as the buyer owns the property. It is important to note that while title insurance can provide protection against claims, it is not a substitute for conducting a thorough title search and ensuring that a property has a clear title.

Quiet Title Action

One of the legal remedies available to a property owner facing claims by previous owners or their heirs is a Quiet Title Action. This legal action is initiated to clear any potential claims that may exist even after conducting a thorough title search and purchasing title insurance. Quiet Title Action seeks a conclusive determination of the full ownership and title of a property.

In essence, it is a lawsuit that ensures that all previous liens, ownership interests, and any other competing claims are fully resolved, allowing for a clear title to be established. This legal action is beneficial for property owners who face claims by previous owners or their heirs, as it ensures that the property’s ownership is completely resolved, minimizing future disputes.

The process of Quiet Title Action requires the legal representation of an experienced attorney who will be responsible for conducting an investigation, establishing the legal basis for the action, drafting legal documents, and representing the property owner in court proceedings.

A Quiet Title Action may be initiated to resolve a wide range of property disputes, from issues arising from unclear ownership history to disputes regarding liens placed against the property. This legal remedy is particularly useful in cases where the property has changed hands several times, and there are multiple claims to ownership that have not been resolved.

In conclusion, Quiet Title Action is a legal remedy that provides property owners with a means of resolving any potential claims by previous owners or their heirs. It ensures the full ownership of a property is established and minimizes the potential for future disputes.

Claims by Previous Owners or Their Heirs FAQs

1. What are claims by previous owners or their heirs?

Answer: Claims by previous owners or their heirs refer to legal actions taken by individuals claiming ownership or interest in property previously owned by someone else.

2. How can claims by previous owners or their heirs affect a property owner?

Answer: Claims by previous owners or their heirs can affect property owners by causing legal disputes, delays in transactions, and possible loss of property.

3. What kinds of claims can previous owners or their heirs make?

Answer: Previous owners or their heirs can make claims based on inheritance, wills, deeds, or other legal documentation that shows ownership or interest in a property.

4. What steps can property owners take to avoid claims by previous owners or their heirs?

Answer: Property owners can take steps such as conducting thorough title searches, purchasing title insurance, and consulting with legal professionals to help prevent or mitigate potential claims.

5. Can claims by previous owners or their heirs be resolved through negotiation or mediation?

Answer: Yes, claims by previous owners or their heirs can often be resolved through negotiation or mediation, which can save time and money compared to going to court.

6. What should property owners do if they receive a claim from a previous owner or their heir?

Answer: Property owners should consult with legal professionals and provide any relevant documentation to help resolve the claim in a timely and effective manner.

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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