How to Read Legal Descriptions

How to Read Legal Descriptions: A Comprehensive Guide

Legal descriptions are an essential part of any real estate transaction, providing precise details about the boundaries and characteristics of a property. However, these descriptions can often be complex and difficult to understand, especially for those without a legal background. In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to read legal descriptions, breaking down the terminology and providing clear explanations. Additionally, we will address some frequently asked questions to further enhance your understanding.

Understanding Legal Descriptions

Legal descriptions are typically found in property deeds, surveys, and other official documents. They serve as a written representation of a property’s boundaries, shape, and other distinguishing features. While legal descriptions can vary in their format and content, there are some common elements that you should be aware of:

1. Metes and Bounds: This is one of the most common methods of describing property boundaries. It involves identifying a starting point (often called a point of beginning or POB) and then using a combination of compass directions, distances, and angles to outline the property lines.

2. Lot and Block: This method is often used in subdivisions and involves referencing a plat map, which divides the land into individual lots and blocks. The legal description will specify the lot number, block number, and any relevant measurements.

3. Government Survey System: This system, also known as the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), is based on a grid system that divides the land into townships, ranges, sections, and aliquot parts. Each section is approximately one square mile and can be further divided into smaller aliquot parts.

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Steps to Read Legal Descriptions

Now that we have covered the basic terminology, let’s delve into the step-by-step process of reading legal descriptions:

Step 1: Familiarize Yourself with the Format

Legal descriptions often follow a specific format, which can help you navigate through the document. Look for headings or subheadings that indicate the type of description being used, such as “Metes and Bounds” or “Lot and Block.”

Step 2: Identify the Starting Point

Find the starting point (POB) mentioned in the description. This could be a specific landmark, a monument, or a previously established property corner. The description will likely provide some details about the starting point’s location.

Step 3: Follow the Directions

Pay close attention to the compass directions (e.g., north, south, east, west) and distances provided in the legal description. These will guide you along the property lines. It may be helpful to sketch out the lines as you progress through the description.

Step 4: Note Any Landmarks or Boundaries

The legal description may mention significant landmarks or boundaries, such as rivers, roads, or other structures. These references can help you verify the accuracy of the description or identify neighboring properties.

Step 5: Understand Measurements and Units

Legal descriptions often include measurements, which can vary depending on the method used. Familiarize yourself with the units of measurement being employed, whether it’s feet, yards, chains, or acres. If necessary, convert the measurements to a more familiar unit for better visualization.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I rely solely on the legal description to determine a property’s boundaries?

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A: While legal descriptions are crucial, they should be used in conjunction with official surveys and other relevant documents. If there are discrepancies or conflicting information, it is best to consult a professional surveyor or attorney.

Q: What happens if there is an error in the legal description?

A: Errors in legal descriptions can occur, but they can be rectified through legal processes. If you suspect an error, consult an attorney to determine the appropriate steps to resolve the issue.

Q: Can legal descriptions change over time?

A: Yes, legal descriptions can change due to various factors, such as boundary adjustments, subdivisions, or annexations. These changes are typically recorded and updated in official documents.

Q: Is it necessary to understand legal descriptions if I’m not involved in real estate transactions?

A: While not essential for everyone, understanding legal descriptions can be helpful in various situations, such as resolving boundary disputes, assessing property values, or simply gaining a better understanding of your own property.

In conclusion, reading legal descriptions can be challenging, but with a basic understanding of the terminology and a step-by-step approach, you can decipher these documents more effectively. Remember to consult professionals when necessary and be diligent in verifying information. By mastering the art of reading legal descriptions, you gain a valuable skill in navigating the complex world of real estate.