I purchased a property 2004 and the owner carried paper. A year later I refinance and paid off the owner. It was in a trust and think that the owner has passed away. I misplace all the escrow paper work , I'm now selling and the escrow company tells me that records show that there is a lien against the property with the original owner. I would like to get in touch with the family and see if they can help me figure this out.

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Lizzy, let me see if I have this straight, reading between the lines.

You purchased property on land contract; the owner retained title (i.e., "carried paper"). A year later you paid down the land contract. The paperwork is misplaced.

1. Do you remember if the trustee signed a warranty deed to you? If the owner was dead and there was a trust, title would have been conveyed by the trustee, or successor trustee, ASSUMING that the property had been transferred into the trust.

2. The title company should have provided you with a copy of any conveyance document, as it should have been recorded with the county register of deeds or similar entity.

3. When you first purchased on land contract, did you get title work? Did it show any liens?

4. When you paid off the land contract, did you get an updated title report showing what encumbrances might be on the property?

5. Did you get (either from the owner if he/she was alive or the Trustee) a Warranty Deed, Quit Clam Deed, or a Deed C? A Deed C would have included a clause that the seller hadn't done anything to encumber title to the property during the time he or she owned it. A Warranty Deed would have conveyed the property free and clear, period.

6. If you don't know what you got, ask the title (escrow) company to provide you with copies of ALL EXCEPTIONS to title. This would include any liens. They do this routinely in commercial transactions; they have the copies of the exceptions and can provide them to you easily. Also ask for copies of the previous deeds, as well as the land contract between the seller and you. The deed from the seller might reveal whether or not there were any existing at that time, depending on who drafted it.

7. You'll actually get more help from people who understand the issue at the title company as to how to clear title than from the original owner's family. The family might be able to explain what the situation was, but the title company needs to be satisfied in order to now sell the property free and clear of liens.

8. Without sounding condescending, this is the kind of title issue that isn't that common, and not the kind that lay people understand.

And the best way to find out what the lien represents is to get a copy from the escrow company. It could be that the owner encumbered the property after executing the land contract, while he as you describe it "carried paper". If so, you may need a real estate attorney to contact the entity that filed the lien and determine what's necessary to discharge it.

You cannot get clear title without discharging or getting a release of that lien.

I can't imagine how distressing this must be, but just remember that a qualified real estate attorney can help sort this out, much better than the owner's family.
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