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All About Legal Descriptions

screenshot of township/ section/ range lines on landgate's listing map

What is a legal description?

A legal description is a written statement that accurately and precisely describes a piece of land or real estate property. It is used to legally identify the boundaries and location of a particular property, including its size, shape, and location in relation to other properties. Legal descriptions are found in deeds, title commitments, surveys, mortgages, real estate contracts, and property tax assessments.

Why are legal descriptions important?

Legal descriptions are important because they provide an unambiguous reference for identifying and locating a specific property. This is crucial in real estate transactions, land surveys, and property ownership disputes. The legal description provides accurate, consistent property information over time. It also affects how the property is assessed and taxed.

Types of legal descriptions

There are several types of legal descriptions used in different contexts. The most common ones include:

Metes and Bounds Description

This type of description uses physical landmarks and measurements to define the boundaries of a property.

Lot and Block Description

Typically used in subdivisions, this description identifies a property by its lot and block number within a designated subdivision.

Rectangular Survey Description (PLSS)

This description uses principal meridians, baselines, range lines, and township lines to describe the location of a property in relation to a specific geographic area.

  • Township: A square of land, usually 6 miles by 6 miles, identified by its location north or south of the baseline and east or west of the principal meridian. The township number identifies how many cells the property is to the north or south of a starting point.

  • Section: A section is a one-square-mile area within a township, identified by its location in relation to the principal meridian and baseline. Sections are numbered from 1 to 36. It contains 640 total acres.

  • Range: The distance east or west of the principal meridian that a piece of property is located.

Which states use legal descriptions/ PLSS?

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio (partial), Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming use legal descriptions to describe the location of a property.

Legal descriptions are often used to describe the location of mineral rights if the surface and mineral rights have been severed. The legal description should be listed in the mineral deed. Mineral rights are most prevalent in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana- not only are those 3 states leaders in energy production, they are also popular in the market of mineral rights transactions.

How can I use a legal description to find the location of a property?

You can use LandGate’s map to find the location of your minerals and generate a free property report with lease and sale estimates. It starts by plugging in the county or town where the property is located into the search bar at the top left corner of the map. Then, click on the 'layers' icon to toggle on the Township, Section, and Range layers.'

As an example, the orange box represents Township 7N Range 62W (7N 62W) in Weld County, CO. The Sections are abbreviated with the numbers 1-30, and the Quarters within each section are represented by the purple grid lines.

To find a specific property, simply zoom in on the map using the Section & Quarter details within your legal description. TIP: If you are searching for a Surface parcel, toggle on the 'Parcels' layer to see the parcel boundaries.

You can check that you've selected the correct parcel by crosschecking the acreage provided by LandGate with what is provided within your legal description.


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