An easement is a legal term that means a person is granted a right of passage for a specific purpose to a small portion of land owned by someone else. Easements can be granted for a number of reasons, such as the need to run a sewer across someone else's property, or the need to have a driveway across property owned by another party. An easement deed is the written legal document that asserts the legal right to the easement.
Easements can be granted by express or implied permission. An express easement occurs when an easement deed is granted to the party in need of access to the land. The person who owns the property that the easement is on can give the rights to the party who needs the easement and sign the deed, or the person who needs the easement may buy the rights to it using cash.
When an easement is implied, that means that there is no formal written document granting access. For example, if a homeowner has been using a path on his neighbor's yard to get to his front door for the past fifteen years, he may have an implied easement. In an implied easement, as long as his neighbors live in that home, they may be unable to stop him from using the path since they have allowed him to do so for so long that he has established an implied legal right to do so.
Although implied easements exist, only an easement deed ensures that the easement is always going to exist. When a property is sold, if a homeowner had an implied easement, the new owners can prevent him from using the land even if he has been using it for many years. On the other hand, when the property is sold with an easement deed, he has the legal rights to continue using the land for the stated purpose, and the new owners who buy that land are encumbered by the easement deed.
Easement deeds can be for a specific purpose, or they can be more general in nature. For example, a homeowner may have an easement deed granting him the right to use his neighbors driveway as a driveway only for driving his car upon. That would mean that he has the legal right to drive his car on that path under the terms of the easement, but he does not have the legal right to set up a grill in their driveway and have a barbeque.