Title is a legal term for an owner's interest in a piece of property. It may also refer to a formal document that serves as evidence of ownership. Conveyance of the document may be required in order to transfer ownership in the property to another person. Title is distinct from possession, a right that often accompanies ownership but is not necessarily sufficient to prove it. In many cases, both possession and title may be transferred independently of each other.
The three elements of title are possession, the right of possession, and the right of property. Possession is the actual holding of a thing, with or without any right thereto. The right of possession is that right (with or without actual possession), the evidence for which is such that the law will uphold it unless a better claim is proven. The right of property is that right which, if all relevant facts were known (and allowed), would defeat all other claims. Each of these may be in a different person.
For example, suppose A steals from B, what B had previously bought in good faith from C, which C had earlier stolen from D, which had been a heirloom of D's family for generations, but had originally been stolen centuries earlier (though this fact is now forgotten by all) from E. Here A has the possession, B has an apparent right of possession (as evidenced by the purchase), D has the absolute right of possession (being the best claim that can be proven), and the heirs of E, if they knew it, have the right of property, which they cannot prove. Good title consists in the uniting these three (possession, right of possession, and right of property) in the same person(s).
The extinguishing of ancient, forgotten, or unasserted claims, such as E's in the example above, was the original purpose of statutes of limitations. Otherwise, title to property would always be uncertain.
In countries with a sophisticated private property system, documents of title are commonly used for real estate, motor vehicles, and some types of intangible property. When such documents are used, they are often part of a registration system whereby ownership of such property can be verified. In the case of real estate, the legal instrument used to transfer title is the deed. A famous rule is that a thief cannot convey good title, so title searches are routine (or highly recommended) for purchases of many types of expensive property (especially real estate).
However, most personal property items do not have a formal document of title. For such items, possession is the simplest indication of title, unless the circumstances give rise to suspicion about the possessor's ownership of the item. Transfer of possession to a good faith purchaser will normally convey title if no document is required.
Political Implications Of Title
Title laws have often been manipulated by governments to discriminate against ethnic groups whom they perceived to be undesirable or inferior. For example, California prevented aliens (mainly Asians) from holding title to land until the law was declared unconstitutional in 1952. Currently there are no restrictions on foreign ownership of land in the United States, although sales of real estate by non-resident aliens are subject to certain special taxation rules.
Having already lost large chunks of land to the United States (thanks to American citizens who had immigrated into its territory), Mexico is very sensitive about losing any more and prohibits foreigners from holding title to land.
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