An action quiet title is filed to clear up clouds in title and to determine the rightful owner of the real property. Most quiet title disputes are governed by section 65.011, Florida Statutes. Title issues can arise in a variety of situations and often stem from a failure to effectively transfer title, or ownership, of the property at some point in time. Some of the common situations for filing a quiet title action are discussed below as well as the general court process for curing title issues.
Incapacity, Fraud, Undue influence: If an owner of real property lacks capacity when they sign a deed to transfer their interest, that transaction is null and void without any legal effect. Similarly, if a deed is procured by fraud or undue influence, those types of transactions can also be aside by a judge. Sometimes real property transfers, which are the subject of incapacity, fraud, or undue influence, may not be discovered until after the death of the owner, which may result in the probate judge handling a dispute concerning the title.
Homestead Rights: In Florida, there are restrictions on a person's ability to transfer and encumber their homestead property which stems from a strong public interest in protecting the family home. For instance, a married couple's homestead property cannot be transferred without the consent of both spouses. If one spouse were to sign a deed transferring their interest in the homestead property to someone else, without the other spouse's consent, the non-consenting spouse may need to file a lawsuit to void the improper title transfer. There may also be issues with an attempt transfer homestead property post-death through a will or trust. When a person dies with a surviving spouse and/or minor children, their homestead property cannot be transferred by a will or trust to anyone other than the spouse and minor children. If the language of a will or trust directs distribution of the property in violation of the family's rights, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit to enforce the rights of the spouse and/or minor children.
Title Insurance: There may be times when it is necessary to secure title insurance on real property, whether it be for a pending purchase and sale or to secure lender financing for real property. During the process of securing title insurance, the chain of title is reviewed and the underwriter may require that certain title defects are corrected before the insurance policy can be issued. Some title defects can be resolved without court intervention through the filing of various documents with the public records. However, certain defects may require the filing of a court action to clear up clouds on title, including defective deeds, defective transfers, and/or boundary disputes.
The Court Process: To seek relief from a judge to cure a title issue, a complaint or petition must be filed with the court. However, prior to filing the complaint, one of the most important steps that must be taken is to determine who may have an adverse claim to the property so they can be included in the lawsuit. Obtaining a judgment in a quiet title action serves little purpose unless it actually clears title. If someone has an interest in the title you are disputing but the person does not receive notice of the court action, any order of the court determining title will not be binding on that interested person, which means that the title is not cleared. Once is determined who needs to be included in the lawsuit, they need to be located and served with a copy of the complaint or petition. After receiving notice of the court action, interested parties will have an opportunity to respond to the complaint by filing what is referred to as an answer with the court. The final part of quiet title proceeding involves submitting evidence of the title issue to a judge at a hearing. After the judge reviews the evidence, an order is issued determining the rightful owner of the property. The judge's order is then recorded in the public records to establish clean title.
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