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Livery of Seisin

DEFINITION

Historic English ceremony used to document the transfer of property and legal title.

EXPLANATION

In the past, the exchange of property between parties occurred as a ceremonial custom in the presence of a credible witness. This ceremony — known as livery of seisin — also involved the exchange of earthly material as a sign of good will and “evidence” of the exchange.

Livery of seisin is an outdated method of conveying property to another party. As stated above it involves the exchange of earthly material in exchange of money. The earthly material signifies an agreement of the exchange and proof that the transfer was intended and in good faith. This system originated in England and was subsequently used by the United States and other countries that used English common law.

History of Livery of Seisin and the Change to Recording Transfers

Prior to the current title recording system, the absence of a formal record-keeping system led to property ownership disputes, such as unverifiable title claims and uncertain property boundaries. This made the process of purchasing, selling, and/or maintaining a property arduous. For example, property owners in the past often had to physically possess their property in order to protect their claim to it. Owners could not own multiple properties without the fear that they may be repossessed by another party.

The establishment of the statute of frauds assisted this problem. Requiring the transfer of property to be documented in writing dramatically reduced uncertainty over property ownership.

In 1850, California adopted a real property recording system. This system originated from principles found in England’s common law system, including stare decisis (using precedents to determine future case law). Over the next 150 years, it evolved into a comprehensive system tasked with managing and collecting title interests.

The modern recording system allows titles to be easily discovered and ensures that the process of transferring property is protected and simple.

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