In legal terms, all property will be classified as either personal property or real property. Each type of property is treated differently under the law. There are many different types of laws that specifically pertain to personal property, and many other types of laws that pertain specifically to real property.
Personal property is movable property. It’s anything that can be subject to ownership, except land. Real property is immovable property – its land and anything attached to the land. Normally, a piece of property can be easily classified as either personal property or real property. The difference between the two is usually fairly straightforward. However, sometimes it’s a little harder to categorize property.
An estate comprises the houses, outbuildings, supporting farmland, and woods that surround the gardens and grounds of a very large property, when people talk about estate planning; they’re usually referring to asset distribution. In other words, they’re talking about how your wealth, assets, pensions, and more will be gifted to your heirs after you pass away. But an estate plan is a bit more than that. In addition to determining who you’d like to give your money and property to, you should also be thinking about your healthcare decisions in advance. For example, some people have strict religious beliefs about being resuscitated or might not want to take certain drugs for personal reasons. Your estate plan can and should deal with these issues so that your loved ones don’t have to. An estate plan is made up of a handful of very important documents, each with a different and unique purpose. As we mentioned above, some of these estate planning documents let you choose what sort of care you want to receive in the hospital, while others can set up trust funds for your children or decide who will run the family business.
In the simplest case, you prove ownership of a house with a registered deed to the property that has your name on it. However, this simple method isn’t always available. If property has been in your family for generations, documents may not be available. In an area devastated by a natural disaster, documents may have been destroyed. In these situations, you may have to take extra steps to prove ownership of a house. If you’re seeking disaster relief, you may need to prove occupancy in addition to (or instead of) proving ownership.
• Get a copy of the deed to the property: The easiest way to prove your ownership of a house is with a title deed or grant deed that has your name on it. Deeds typically are filed in the recorder’s office of the county where the property is located. Even if you lost your personal copy of your deed after the destruction of your home or during a natural disaster, there should still be a copy of this document at the recorder’s office. If the recorder’s office was destroyed, contact your state government for more information on the registration of property records.
• Produce copies of purchase documents: Even without a deed, if you have a copy of the contract you signed when you bought the house, you may be able to use it to prove ownership. However, this document only proves that you owned the house at some point in the house – it isn’t definitive proof that you still own the house. As long as no one else is challenging your ownership of the property, purchase documents should be enough to prove your ownership. You may have to combine them with other documents, such as receipts for property tax payments or a homeowner’s insurance policy.
• Use the certificate of title for a mobile home: In most places, mobile homes are considered personal property rather than real estate. If you have the certificate of title for your mobile home, this can prove ownership in the house itself. The certificate of title for a mobile home typically won’t prove any ownership rights in the land underneath the mobile home, just the structure itself.
• Gather property tax receipts: You don’t have to be the record owner of a piece of real estate to pay property taxes for it. However, if you’ve been paying property taxes for the same house for several years, that can be evidence that you own the property. Even if you don’t have personal records, there will be records of tax payments at the county tax assessor’s office. These records typically list the name of the person making the payment. Paying property taxes for a house can be used to establish ownership, even if you aren’t the record owner of the property. This is known as adverse possession. However, gaining clear title to property using this method is relatively rare.
• Get copies of mortgage payment records: Without a deed or other ownership documents, you may also be able to prove ownership of a house if you can show that you have been making mortgage payments on the property. As with payment of property taxes, it’s unlikely someone would be making mortgage payments on a house that wasn’t theirs. You have additional proof of ownership if the mortgage is in your name, since the lender would have done due diligence to determine you were the rightful owner of the house before issuing the mortgage. Even if you’ve lost your personal records of mortgage payments, your mortgage company will still have them.
• Provide proof of homeowner’s insurance in your name: Even if you no longer have a mortgage on the house, you likely still have a homeowner’s insurance policy to protect your investment and limit liability losses. The insurance company has records of your policy and all payments made. Insurance companies typically verify ownership of property before issuing a homeowner’s insurance policy. Additionally, it is unlikely you would pay homeowner’s insurance premiums if you didn’t actually own the house.
• Complete an affidavit of ownership: An affidavit is a legal document you can draft and sign in the presence of a notary. When you sign this document, you are swearing under penalty of perjury that you are the owner of the property. While an affidavit of ownership does have legal significance, this method should only be used as a last resort to prove ownership of a house. If you do swear out an affidavit, support that document with as much other information as you have, including any mortgage, tax, or insurance records.
• Gather identification documents: Many basic identification documents, such as state-issued driver’s licenses, include the address of your primary residence. The address of the house on official identification is strong evidence that you live there. While having the address on your driver’s license doesn’t necessarily prove that you own the house, it can help to prove that you live there. Particularly if you were the victim of a natural disaster, you may have to prove both ownership and occupancy to be eligible for some types of aid.
• Get copies of sales agreements or other legal documents: If you purchased appliances or other supplies used in the house, the sales agreement may include the address of the house. Any other legal document that includes your residence would also have the address of the house. Court documents require your address, in part to establish that the court has jurisdiction. Other legal forms or applications may also include your address. If you’ve lost your copies of these documents, you may be able to get new copies at the courthouse, or by contacting the store or other person involved in the transaction.
• Show utility bills in your name: Bills for water or electricity in your name are strong evidence that you live in the house. If you’ve lost copies of past utility bills, contact the utility company and ask for an account history or transaction record. Since virtually anyone can start utilities at a house, utility bills are never proof of ownership. However, they are solid evidence that you live in the house. If the utilities are not in your name, you may still be able to prove occupancy if you can demonstrate your relationship to the person who turned on the utilities. For example, if your mother turned on the utilities, that relationship would typically be sufficient.
• Find official mail sent to you at the house’s address: It’s generally accepted that you live at an address if you gave that address out to businesses or organizations to communicate with you. Any sort of bills or statements with your name and address are sufficient. Mail provides better evidence if it is generated in the course of business, such as a credit card statement or a delivery notice. Anything that says “or current resident” (or similar) under your name won’t work to establish occupancy.
• Submit a declarative statement: If all else fails, you can swear out an affidavit stating that you occupy the house in question. While you do sign the statement under penalty of perjury, this is considered the weakest form of proof and may not be accepted by some relief organizations or government agencies. Whenever possible, have other documents to support your declarative statement. Even if a document isn’t enough to prove occupancy by itself, it may gain strength when combined with other documents.
• Call the local police to have squatters removed as trespassers: If the squatters have only recently taken up residence in a house you own, you may be able to get them charged criminally without much effort on your part. If the squatters have been in the home for several weeks, police may not be legally able to do anything to remove them. If you don’t take steps to legally remove them, they may be able to challenge your ownership of the house. If you are able to get squatters removed as trespassers, you may be able to press criminal charges, or to sue them in civil court (particularly if they caused damage to your property while there).
• Serve an eviction notice if you can’t remove them as trespassers: While the specifics of eviction vary among states, the basic process is fairly similar. Get a sheriff’s deputy to serve the squatters with a written notice that they are being evicted. From the date notice is received, they have a limited period of time to leave the property, unless they choose to challenge the eviction. As strange as it may sound, if people live in a house for an extended period of time, they may acquire the rights of tenants – even if they entered illegally and have never paid you any rent. This gives them some rights to occupy the property until you can get a court order. You can find forms online to use to evict squatters from property you own. The easiest way to make sure the forms you get are valid in your area is to look for forms provided by the court where you will file your lawsuit for eviction.
• Go to court to get the squatters forcibly removed: If the squatters stay in the house despite your notice, a judge will have to find that you own the property and that the squatters are there illegally. With a court order, you can get a sheriff’s deputy to forcibly remove the squatters. In court, you typically need a title deed or similar proof of ownership of the house to prove that you have the right to remove the squatters.
• Visit all houses you own at least once a year: Once you’ve gone through the time-consuming and stressful process of evicting squatters, make sure it doesn’t happen again. If you own any houses that are unoccupied, check them regularly to make sure no one has moved in illegally. If you catch a squatter quickly, you may be able to call the police and have them removed as a trespasser without having to go through the eviction process again. You can also take additional steps to make the house less attractive to potential squatters. Install lights that are set on a timer, and place security cameras at the entrances. Keep the yard neat so the house doesn’t appear abandoned.
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When you need help with real property or real estate in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We can help you with Quiet Title Actions. Evictions for Landlords. Partition Actions. Zoning and Use Matter. Lawsuits and Litigation. Chains of Title Issues. And Much More. We want to help you with your real estate matter.
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