What Is the Difference Between a Warranty Deed & a Survivorship Deed?

A deed is a legal document that transfers property from one party to another. There are various types of deeds and the differences between them can usually be explained by the number of warranties or promises the seller gives to the buyer. A warranty deed is the most comprehensive and provides the most guarantees. Survivorship isn't so much a deed as a title. It's a way to co-own property where, upon the death of one owner, ownership automatically passes to the survivor.

What Is the Difference Between a Warranty Deed & a Survivorship Deed?
Image Credit: AntonioGuillem/iStock/GettyImages

Understanding the Warranty Deed

The main purpose of a warranty deed is to transfer the legal ownership of real estate from one person to another. However, it also contains lots of warranties because the owner pledges that she owns the property free and clear of any mortgages, liens or other third-party claims. When a home seller signs a warranty deed, she's taking on a fair amount of risk. She's saying that she's responsible for any problems that turn up with the title and will do whatever it takes to fix them.

Understanding Survivorship

Survivorship is a way for two or more people to own property together. Ordinarily, when someone dies, his property passes to the beneficiaries he named in his will. If he didn't leave a will, state intestacy laws decide who inherits the deceased's property. But if the property is subject to survivorship, ownership will automatically pass to the surviving owners. For example, if John and Jane jointly own their home with survivorship, Jane would automatically become the sole owner when John dies. The most attractive aspect of survivorship is that the property does not pass through probate, the time-consuming, court-supervised process of distributing someone's estate after he dies. The survivor automatically gets the full legal title.

Warranty Deed with a Right of Survivorship

If you're selling a property to two buyers, for example, a husband and wife, then the chances are high that you'll be asked to sign a warranty deed with right of survivorship. This document combines all the features of a warranty deed with a declaration that the buyers hold the property as "joint tenants with a right of survivorship." Don't worry about the legalese — the words are just a way of creating the survivorship title. Your attorney or real estate agent will prepare this document during your home sale.

Quitclaim Deed with a Right of Survivorship

You don't need a warranty deed to create a right of survivorship. If you own property in your sole name, for example, and you want to put your adult child on the title, you could use a quitclaim deed. Quitclaim deeds are much shorter than warranty deeds and easy to prepare. They're not really suitable for arms-length home sales since the buyer doesn't get any warranties that the seller has a clear title, but they're useful for moving property around between family members as part of an inheritance plan. You can turn a standard quitclaim deed into a survivorship deed by writing that the "second party" or "grantee" – the people who are receiving the property, in this example, you and your adult child – hold the property as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship." This language is pre-printed on the standard fill-in-the-blanks quitclaim forms you can download from the internet. This way, when you die, your adult child automatically will become the sole legal owner of the property.