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An abstract of title is a document which provides information about the history of the legal title to a piece of real estate, with the goal of demonstrating that the title is clear. Before issuing title insurance, an abstract of title is usually prepared, and abstracts may be used in other settings as well. They can also be useful for historical research, as they can provide important information about the history of a piece of land or structure.
In some cases, the abstract of title may provide history from the first recorded ownership of the property, as for example when a grant of land was given to a settler by the government. In other instances, it covers a period such as 40 years or 60 years, showing the transactions surrounding the property which occurred during this period to provide information about whether or not the title is clear.
The abstract of title demonstrates when the property changed hands, whether or not there are claims or liens on the title which could cloud the title, and what kind of easements may restrict the use of the land. In addition, it indicates which rights have been transferred or sold. For example, timber or mineral rights may not be automatically granted with the title. Essentially, it provides complete information about where the property stands so that people can determine whether or not there may be problems with the title.
The details in the abstract of title discuss any events of historic interest, and provide references to legal documents which will back up the assertions made in the abstract. This differs from an opinion of title, in which a lawyer examines the legal documentation on the property and issues a legal opinion about the clarity of the title and who currently has rights to it. The document acts as a condensed history with references which people can use to check the facts for themselves.
If an abstract of title suggests that there may be problems with the title, the insurance company may opt not to grant title insurance until these problems are resolved. It is important for people to make sure that the records pertaining to resolution of liens and claims against the property are kept in good order, as they may need to demonstrate that something has in fact been resolved. It is also important to confirm that the records held by government agencies and title companies which pertain to a title are accurate and do not conflict.