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What to Know When it Comes to Fixing Mistakes in Deeds

Despite all the time and attention paid to negotiating, preparing, and executing a deed, an accident or mistake can occur.  Even a slight misdescription of the property being conveyed in the deed can have significant implications.  However, because deeds are signed and delivered legal documents, correcting a mistake may require more than simply retyping the document or crossing out an incorrect provision.

There are Michigan courts of equity which provide access to remedies such as changing an inaccurate deed. In fact, Michigan courts have long recognized an equitable doctrine of reformation.

In essence this doctrine provides that courts of equity have the power to grant reformation or correction of an instrument in order to express the real agreement of the parties involved. Reformation of a deed may be due to fraud, mistake, accident, or surprise.

Even if the language within the deed appears to be clear and concise, courts maintain the power to correct the deed where a mistake, accident, fraud or surprise have occurred. In fact, the Michigan Supreme Court has never limited the equitable power to reform an instrument only to  those cases involving ambiguous or vague deeds.  Specifically, the Michigan Supreme Court has held that the equitable power to reform may be applied to unambiguous or clear agreements, in the case of Urick v. Burge, 350 Mich 165 (1957).

A deed may be reformed because of a mutual mistake by the conveying parties.  Mutual mistakes may include scenarios such as, misunderstanding as to the legal effect that the deed actually made, mistakes regarding descriptions of property, or provisions from the purchase agreement that were left out. However, the one who is looking to reform the deed at issue must be able to prove this mistake was mutual by clear and satisfactory evidence.

Even more, a court under certain circumstances, may permit reformation due to unilateral mistakes.  The Michigan Court of Appeals in Johnson Family Ltd. Partnership v. White Pine Wireless, LLC, 281 Mich App 364 (2008), ruled that unilateral mistakes give rise to reforming a deed where the mistake was either (1) induced by fraud, or (2) the other party knew of this mistake and remained silent.

At Dalton & Tomich, we have experience and expertise in navigating the various legal needs that concern real property.  If you have questions regarding easements, please do not hesitate to contact us at (313)-859-6000.  We would be happy to speak with you.

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