Tangled Title Basics

What is a tangled title? 

A tangled title is a property title that does not accurately reflect the present homeowner’s claim to the home. A tangled title happens when someone owns part/all of the house, but doesn’t have their name on the deed.


How can a title get tangled? 

A few different ways, but here are some of the most common. 


  1. The person whose name is on the deed passes away. After that person passes away, some of his or her relatives continue to live in the home without adding their name to the deed. 


Many children or grandchildren currently live in homes that are still in the name of a deceased parent or grandparent. When someone passes away, other relatives often don’t change the name on the deed. This causes a tangled title. 


  1. Another way is through land installment sales contracts, also called rent-to-own agreements. You might have a rent-to-own agreement if you have agreed to buy a house, but the seller isn’t going to put your name on the deed until you have paid the full purchase price. The property title can become tangled if the seller refuses to put your name on the deed even after you have paid the full amount. 


  1. Finally, there’s deed theft. Deed theft is when someone takes a house they have no claim to and puts the property title in their name, without the true owner’s consent and/or knowledge. This often happens to titles that are already tangled! So, making sure your title is straightened out is an important part of protecting yourself against deed theft. 


How can I check to see if my title is tangled? 

Go online to https://epay.phila-records.com/phillyepay/web/ and search by name or by address. 


Why should I fix a tangled title? 

Tangled titles are sneaky! An incorrect deed rarely affects day-to-day life, but a tangled title can make solving problems with your house, especially urgent ones, difficult or impossible. Addressing tangled titles before there is an emergency like a foreclosure, utility shutoff, or structural damage is an important part of protecting yourself and your homes. 


The best time to untangle your title is when it seems like there is absolutely no need to do it. 


Tangled Title Dictionary 

  • Estate: the property someone owns when they die. “Estate” sometimes means a big house with lots of land, but in this context it just refers to whatever someone has at the time they die : a home, clothes, a car, jewelry, furniture, etc. 
  • Heir: the people who will inherit the estate. If the person died with a will, the heirs are often picked in the will. If the person died without a will, the law will determine who inherits the estate and who doesn’t.  
  • Deed: document showing who the owner(s) of a piece of property is.
  • Probate: when someone dies, probating the estate is the process by which the deceased’s stuff is distributed appropriately. 
  • Executor/Administrator: the person in charge of making sure the right property gets to the right heir. If there’s a will, the person in charge is the Executor. If there’s no will, the person in charge is the Administrator. The Executor/Administrator is sometimes also an heir, but not always. 

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