Sometimes clients prefer to handle real estate transactions on the cheap. They get a legal description, and want you to just copy it. No need for a survey. If a client insists on that course, its best to make them aware of the potentially catastrophic consequences.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals just handed down a decision that shows the havoc that can result when a party just copies a complex legal description from an abstract. In this case, two people claimed to own the same property based on a self-contradictory legal description. To put it simply, the legal description basically read something like this:
I grant you the south half of A…..
Except for the south half of A.
No testimony was available concerning the intent of the drafter. So, the court strained to figure out what was intended by looking to how the parties used the property after the deed was signed, who paid the property taxes, and other evidence that only tangentially demonstrated intent.
There’s a clear lesson here for real estate transaction attorneys. Just say no to copy and paste. When a legal description is this fuzzy, a survey is advisable (or, perhaps, if your client insists, draft a really good CYA letter expressing your belief that a survey is necessary).
Rob Shainess is a Minneapolis-based real estate litigator. He has nightmares about legal descriptions like the one in this case.