title, in law, the means by which the owner has just and legal possession of his or her property. It is distinct from the document (e.g., a deed) that is evidence of the title. Title can be lost or acquired only by the methods established by law, that is, by inheritance or by purchase. Several persons may have different titles to the same property. While one holds a legal title (a claim to the land that is recognized by a court), another may hold an equitable title (the right to have the legal title transferred to him if certain conditions are met). This occurs if there is a mortgage on the land. If a person holds land free of all encumbrances he may claim to have perfect title. When property is purchased, a title search is made to make certain that the seller is the legitimate owner of the title he is selling; the resulting document is an abstract of title.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.