Approximate Breakdown of Land Ownership in the US:
Private ownership- 1.334 billion (58%)
Federal Government- 713 million (31%)
States- 207 million (9%)
Tribal Lands- 46 million (2%)
The surface and underlying minerals were originally “bundled” together. In other words, the surface and minerals were owned by the same individual, government, etc. There are two ways to sever the surface from the minerals….you can sell the surface and retain the minerals or sell the minerals and retain the surface. So how can you determine if you own minerals? First, understand that surface and the underlying minerals are also called Real Property. Every document or contract entered into that involves the purchase or sale of real property must be filed in the county courthouse of the county where the property is located. So, pretty much any option you select to determine if you own minerals will include a search of the courthouse records. Let’s look at what your options are as a possible mineral owner.
Go to the Courthouse to Search Mineral Ownership Records
If you live on or near your property, you can go to the courthouse yourself to search the records. The legal description of your property could be helpful. If you don’t have the description, go to the tax office first. As a surface owner, you are paying property taxes and they can assist you with your property description. It’s best if you have the deed that was signed when you or a relative purchased the property. With the deed, you can ask for assistance in the deed records room where they will assist you in understanding the process of running title on your property. What you are looking for in the courthouse is a deed covering your property where the seller (called “Grantor”) conveyed the property to a buyer (called “Grantee”). You need to understand that, depending on what state the property is located in, the first deeds could have been executed in the 1800s. However, you must start with the most current deed and research the title in reverse order. For example: If your property was acquired from the Allen family, were the minerals reserved in that deed? Then find the deed where the Allen family was the Grantee. You might find that the Allen family purchased the property from the Beck family. Read that deed. Then find the deed where the Beck family purchased the property from the Clark family. It will take some time, but it will be necessary to locate and understand all the deeds. If you find a deed where all oil, gas and other minerals are reserved, then you will know that the surface and minerals have been severed and all subsequent conveyances of the surface will not include the minerals. Many of these deeds will state that Grantor is conveying all right, title and interest. But understand that if the grantor does not own the minerals, then Grantor is conveying the surface only. Some counties in some states have online records. It can be difficult running title using only online records, but it is possible. In order to see if its worth looking into, we suggest you use LandGate's free online tool to understand the potential worth of developing your minerals. You can understand its worth by finding your parcel on LandGate's map!
Hire a Landman to Run Your Title
There are many men and women in the land profession (“landmen”) who are quite capable of running titles to answer your questions. These landmen have spent many years researching county records in an effort to determine who owns minerals. These landmen could charge you anywhere from $300 - $500/day, depending on their education, experience level, certifications and other important factors. Most LandGate title searches are completed in a week or less.
Hire a Title Company to Research Mineral Ownership
There are title companies in most every town. However, most title companies support the real estate industry. The majority of real estate transactions are focused on the surface. Title on surface ownership is not as complicated as title on mineral ownership. If you can find a title company that has the time for a mineral ownership search, that could be a good option.
Hire an Attorney to Help Determine if you Own Your Minerals
Hiring an attorney would likely be the most expensive option. However, hiring an attorney could be your best option. In many cases, property deeds are complicated to read and interpret, especially when property rights are being transferred with minerals being reserved. Having an attorney involved in the title research can really help when complications arise. If there are title issues, you will need an attorney to prepare documents to clear your title. As an example: Imagine Mr. Allen selling the property in 1905 to Mr. Beck and retaining all the oil and gas rights. Then Mr. Allen dies without a will in 1915, being survived by his wife and 4 children. In most states, 50% of Mr. Allen’s assets would pass to his wife with the remaining 50% being divided between his 4 children. This would result in the minerals being owned 50% by his wife and 12.5% by each child. Now let’s assume that each of the 4 children died in 1965. And each of the 4 children were married with 4 children. In this example, there are now 16 grandchildren of Mr. Allen who died in 1915. Each of these grandchildren owns a portion of the minerals. How about the 50% that passed to Mr. Allen’s wife in 1915? And if each of her 4 children were married when they each passed in 1965, who now owns the 50% that passed to their spouses? Answer – It gets complicated and someone’s going to need an attorney.
The Best Way to Determine if You Own Mineral Rights
It is especially important that you find out if you own minerals. Most people that own property in the US think they own the minerals. And most people that own minerals in the US don’t know they own them. A great starting point would be to look up your property on LandGate's map to find out how much they are worth. In addition, please refer the guidelines stated above as well as the other free resources we have on mineral ownership.