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Abstract vs Torrens Land


ABSTRACT LAND refers to parcels of land that have not been registered, or more commonly, land that is not "Torrens." Prior to the enactment of the Torrens act (now Minn. Stat. §508) in 1901, all land was abstract land. The office of the county recorder accepts all instruments for recording which affect non-Torrens land. In order to determine the status of title to abstract land, in Ramsey County, private abstract companies prepare new, or continue already existing, "abstracts of title." An abstract of title is a compilation of all of the instruments (beginning with the original grant or patent from the U.S. government) affecting the particular parcel of land under examination. The abstractor makes entries, in numerical order, of only the essential parts of each instrument shown, although sometimes the abstractor will photocopy the instrument and show it as an exhibit to the entry. In general, attorneys examine the abstract and from such an exam, issue a title opinion. Each time the title is transferred, the abstract must be continued to date and re-examined, again from the original grant or patent to the present date. Over time the abstract becomes longer, bulky and more difficult to examine.

By contrast, land which is registered or "TORRENS" is governed by a specific statute, Minn. Stat. §508. One of the hallmarks of the registration proceeding is the issuance of a "certificate of title," which effectively replaces the old "abstract of title." In general, only those matters appearing on the certificate of title need to be examined. Immediately following the judicial hearing and signing of the decree of registration, the decree is filed with the registrar, who then issues a certificate of title in the name of the owner, subject only to all adjudicated encumbrances (and statutory exceptions).

Usually title to abstract land is registered under chapter 508 because of title defects disclosed by an examination of the abstract. However, developers or others often desire to eliminate the abstract in favor of having the more "USER-FRIENDLY" CERTIFICATE OF TITLE, as compared to the cumbersome abstract of title. Under the Torrens system, it is no longer necessary to examine, over and over again with every transaction, each instrument dating back to the U.S. government. Instead, only an examination of those matters appearing on the certificate of title must be made.

Another unique feature of the Torrens system is that all instruments are reviewed by the Torrens clerk for accuracy prior to filing, and many instruments must be certified by the examiner (or deputy examiner) before the registrar of titles may accept them for filing. See page 15 of the "Guide to the Torrens System" for a list of the type of instrument that will need prior written approval. This aspect of the Torrens system ASSURES THE ACCURACY of certain conveyances or other matters, such as adding a street vacation to the body of the certificate of title.