Michigan Adopts New Recording Requirements

5/1/2002 Andrew D. Hakken
Source: West Michigan Commercial Development & Real Estate Quarterly

Effective March 4, 2002, Governor Engler signed into law four bills that modify the recording requirements for documents that convey, assign, encumber, or dispose of title to Michigan real estate or an interest in Michigan real estate. This includes deeds, mortgages, land contracts, land contract assignments, and plats. The new Acts are Public Act Nos. 19, 20, 21, and 23, Public Acts of 2002, amending MCL 565.201, MCL 565.351, MCL 560.144, and MCL 565.8 and 565.47, respectively.

These Acts made the following substantive changes to the recording requirements of Michigan law.

  1. Elimination of Witnesses Requirement. The long-standing requirement that documents to be recorded by a Register of Deeds ("recordable documents") must be signed in the presence of two witnesses has been eliminated. Instead, recordable documents need only be acknowledged before a notary public, judge, or court clerk. The acknowledgment process basically requires the acknowledging party to appear before the notary public, judge, or court clerk, acknowledge/affirm that s/he signed the document, and provide proof that s/he is the person named in the document (unless the person taking the acknowledgment knows this to be the case). Proponents of this change argued that the acknowledgment requirement alone satisfies the underlying purposes behind the witnesses requirement -- that the person signing the document verifies that s/he is doing so of her/his own free will, and that such person is whom s/he claims to be.

  2. Elimination of Certain Address Requirements. With one exception, Public Act No. 19 eliminated the requirement that the addresses of the parties to a recordable document appear on the document. The exception is that the address of each grantee in a "deed of conveyance or assignment of real estate" (MCL 565.201(1)(d)) must be legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped on the document. This was a requirement under preexisting law.

  3. Party Name Requirements and Signatures. Public Act No. 19 specifies two requirements with respect to party names and signatures. First, the name of each person "purporting to" execute a recordable document must be "legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped beneath the original signature or mark of the person" (MCL 565.201(1)(a), emphasis added). This apparently expands, at least for recording purposes, the acceptable methods of executing documents beyond a traditional signature. Second, the signatory's name, as printed, typewritten, or stamped, must match the name recited in the acknowledgment. Prior law required that there be no name discrepancy in the body of the document, as well. Prior law also attempted to explain the Legislature's intent behind the "printed, typewritten, or stamped" requirement, but this was eliminated, as was an express authorization for Registers of Deeds to exercise their discretion in accepting documents that appeared to comply with the requirement.

  4. No Rejection of Documents Based on Content. Public Act No. 19 added a provision that if a document complies with its requirements and the requirements of other acts that govern the recording of instruments (e.g., the Acts noted above), then Registers of Deeds may not refuse to record the document because of its content. House and Senate analyses of this Act do not address this provision in any detail, so it is unclear how far-reaching this provision will be.

The foregoing modifications should help to streamline the execution and recordation of real estate documents in Michigan. By dropping its witnesses requirement, Michigan has joined the majority of states (over 40) that have no witnesses requirement for recordable documents. Time will tell whether the witnesses requirement helped to preserve the sanctity of real estate titles in Michigan, or whether the witnesses requirement truly is superfluous of the acknowledgment requirement.

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Andrew D. Hakken is a partner in the Grand Rapids office of Warner Norcross & Judd. Mr. Hakken focuses his practice on real estate law. He may be reached directly at 616.752.2198. Because each situation is different, this information is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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