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A deed is a legal instrument used to grant a privilege. The deed is best known as the method of transferring title to real estate from one person to another. However, by the general definition, powers of attorney, commissions, patents, and even diplomas conferring academic degrees are also deeds.

Historically under common law, for an instrument to be a valid deed it needed five things:

  • It must indicate that the instrument itself conveys some privilege or thing to someone. This is indicated by using the word hereby or the phrase by these presents in the sentence indicating the gift.
  • The person receiving the privilege or thing must have the legal capacity to receive it.
  • The grantor must have the legal ability to grant the thing or privilege.
  • A seal must be affixed to it. Most jurisdictions have eliminated this requirement and replaced it with the signature of the grantor. However, for conveyances of real estate, most jurisdictions require that the deed be acknowleged before a Notary Public and some may require a witness or witnesses in addition.
  • It must be delivered to and accepted by the recipient.

Conditions attached to the acceptance of a deed are known as covenants.

In the United States of America, a pardon of the President was at one time considered to be a deed and thus needed to be accepted by the recipient. This made it impossible to grant a pardon posthumously. However, in the case of Henry Ossian Flipper, this view was altered when President Bill Clinton pardoned him in 1999.

In some jurisdictions, a deed of trust is used as an equivalent to a mortgage.

In some jurisdictions (especially New Zealand) a deed of endowment is used as an equivalent to a Royal Charter, often used to establish educational or medical institutions. One such example is when the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, established the Auckland and WellingtonGrammar Schools in 1850.

In the transfer of real estate, a deed conveys ownership from the old owner (the grantor) to the new owner (the grantee), and can include various warranties. The precise name of these warranties differ by jurisdiction. However the basic differance between them is the degree to which the grantor warrants the title. The grantor may give a general warranty of title against any claims, or the warranty may be limited only to claims which occured after the grantor obtained the real estate. The latter type of deed is usually known as a quitclaim deed. While a general warranty deed is normally used for real estate sales and transfers, quitclaim deeds are sometimes used for transfers between family members, gifts, and other special or unusual circumstances.

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