Legal Description of Property

ByDusan Vasic
September 27,2021

If you’re looking to purchase a property for your business or newly formed LLC, you probably already know that you need a pile of legal documents. An essential part of the deed is the legal description of the property. 

The legal dictionary defines it as a “formal, detailed, and sufficient property/asset description that definitively identifies and locates a specific property.”

The legal description is an essential component of a deed that describes and defines the property that’s bought or sold. It may sound simple, but there cannot be any inconsistencies in this description or imprecise language used. If the description is left open to interpretation, it may result in legal complications and you not owning the exact property you’ve purchased. 

To analyze why a legal description is a significant part of the deed, we need a more thorough definition.

Deed Definition

The deed is a document that establishes ownership over a property. In this case, we are interested in a deed that transfers real estate ownership between the seller and the buyer. Components that make the deed valid, legal, and contractual are: 

  • Grantor and grantee identification
  • Expression of conveyance by the grantor
  • Legal description
  • Signature of grantor or grantors 

Simply put, the deed is a legal document that transfers ownership of the property from the grantor to the grantee. Keep in mind that there are other types of deeds, but the property’s legal description is the key element of transferring ownership of the real estate. 

The legal description of real estate has to cover the parcel of land with accuracy and precision to be easily identified and located. There are several types of legal descriptions used to identify and thoroughly describe the property in question: 

  1. The US Public Land Survey System 
  2. The lot and block survey system (Subdivision) 
  3. Metes and Bounds
  4. The State Plane Coordinate System

Depending on the circumstances, multiple legal property descriptions may be used to describe the real estate listed on the deed. Using more than one method to define the property nullifies the chance of misinterpretation or error.  

The USPLS is a grid system set up by the federal government to describe large parcels of public land. Any property or piece of land can be precisely located using township, section, and subsection labels in a county defined by the Principal Meridians and Baselines. This system was established in 1785 and is used in 30 states. 

A legal description of the property primarily used in urban and suburban areas is known as the lot and block survey system. Also known as the recorded plat survey system, this legal description starts with a more extensive section of land that’s already described by the metes and bounds method or by another description. This parcel is then divided into smaller lots that are recorded in county records. Each block has an alphabetical and numerical value assigned for easier identification. 

The system of legal description that uses natural landmarks and geographical features is called metes and bounds. This system is commonly used in situations when survey areas have an irregular outline. The method describes the boundaries of the property by using direction and distance between each point and monument (geodetic markers). 

The State Plane Coordinate System uses a coordinate system with north-south and east-west axis to divide each state into smaller zones. SPCS was created to assist with surveying, mapping, and engineering throughout the US. It consists of 124 zones that are adjusted to the geographical features of each state. It uses a simple Cartesian coordinate system to identify locations. 

Each individual legal property description has some essential elements: 

  • County, town, and subdivision 
  • Border defining description
  • Parcel’s name where the property is located

The professional land surveyor will use a combination of these elements to describe the property. The best practice is to hire a land surveyor to verify or correct any legal descriptions before signing the deed to ensure it’s up to date.

Other forms of describing real estate are usually not sufficient enough to qualify as a legal description of the property. The most common ones that are used for other purposes but aren’t adequate for deeds are: 

  • Property tax records may use a brief summary of the property, which will differ depending on the state. 
  • While seemingly a good way to locate and identify the property, the street address is not reliable. The address may change, and it’s not precise in defining property lines, so it can’t be used in a legal document. 

Landowners will sometimes confuse these with the appropriate property legal descriptions. When preparing the deed for the property, the standard practice is to use the exact one found on the latest deed.

Reading the legal description can leave landowners confused as to what they are purchasing. Luckily, title insurance protects buyers from any form of ambiguous legal descriptions and forgeries. The best steps you can take are: 

  • Making sure you have title insurance coverage 
  • Requesting a new survey from your title company

Conducting a new metes and bounds survey helps you avoid any legal pitfalls with the real estate that you are signing the deed for. This way, any inherent troubles with the legal description can be nipped in the bud.  

The critical thing to remember is to check the documentation received by your registered agent and review it with a professional before signing the deed.

Frequently Asked Questions
What does the legal description of property mean?

The legal description uses geographical features to define property boundaries. It is a mandatory element of a legal document such as a deed to legitimize the transfer of ownership of real estate between two parties. 

How do you legally describe real estate?

There are multiple ways to describe real estate. The methods most commonly used for legal descriptions are metes and bounds, the US Public Land Survey System, lot and block, and the State Plane Coordinate System. 

Where should you go to get the legal description for a property?

You can find the legal description at the county assessor’s office, which should hold the copy of the deed with the property description. Most offices have online databases with this information. However, if you cannot find it online, you will most likely be able to request it in person from the agency responsible for holding that information. 

What are the types of legal descriptions?

There are multiple types of legal descriptions for real estate. This is the best way to avoid any confusion and misinterpretation of the property listed on the deed. The most commonly used types are lot and block as well as metes and bounds.

What is the essential purpose of legal descriptions of real property?

The essential purpose of legal descriptions of the property is to define the land or real estate listed on the deed by tracing its boundaries, listing its county, town, and subdivision, or by identifying the parcel where the property is located. The purpose is to avoid legal misinterpretations when transferring ownership of the property.

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