To err is human. Often time mistakes occur in the drafting and execution of real estate deeds. When there is a mistake in the language of a deed, what can be done to fix it? Does a clerical/scrivener’s error invalidate the deed? Generally, either a correction deed or court petition for reformation is appropriate.
A correction deed is a subsequent deed by the parties to the initial deed which clarifies and corrects the underlying mistake. Legally, it is only available when there has been (1) no fraud, (2) where the rights of third parties are not affected, and a (3) court in equity could have reformed the deed. Church v. Combs, 58 S.W.2d 467, 470 (Mo. 1933). When considering a correction deed, there should be language specifying the purpose of the correction deed and identifying the deed being corrected with as much detail as possible. It is generally simple to determine whether there is fraud present and whether third-parties will be effected. But, when can a court in equity reform a deed?
A court may order a deed formation if it is pleaded and proven that there was a (1) a pre-existing agreement between the parties which is consistent with the change sought; (2) a scrivener’s mistake in drafting the deed such that it was prepared other than as agreed; and (3) the mistake was mutual as between the grantors and the grantees. Ethridge v. TierOne Bank, 226 S.W.3d 127, 132 (Mo. 2007).
Alternatively, a petition for quiet title could provide relief. However, with a quiet title, a court must adjudicate all interests in a particular parcel of property. That is a much broader undertaking than simply correcting/reforming one deed and may result in more litigation than is necessary.
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