Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Title Definition:

The right or proof of ownership.

Related Terms: Deed, Lien, Property, Indefeasible

In an 1893 case, Re Vancouver Improvement Company, Justice Drake of the British Columbia Supreme Court wrote:

"The term title means on the one hand the right of ownership and on the other the instruments or evidence of such right."

More recently, in Mann v Canada, Justice Kempo of the Tax Court of Canada adopted these words (not entirely accurate since title is not a legal term restricted to evidencing ownership in real property only, and is also used to refer to those documents that show ownership of personal property):

"... those instruments that are necessary for establishing or for conveying good title.... Title is a way in which a landowner justly possesses property...."

title certificateIn Haw River Land & Timber Company, Inc. v. Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation, Justice Niermeyer of the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, offered these very helpful words:

"Title refers to the legal ownership of a property interest so that one having title to a property interest can withstand the assertion of others claiming a right to that ownership.

"But title to property does not characterize the property itself as valuable, merchantable, or even usable. Thus, while title to property may be unassailable, the property itself may have no value and may even constitute a burden to its owner. For these reasons, an insurance policy insuring legal title covers only the right of the owner to assert ownership against others claiming ownership or an interest in that ownership. And marketable title is one which is free from reasonable doubt in law or fact as to its validity."

In Altham's CaseEdward Coke wrote:

"As to this word (1) (tiltulum; Latin for title) ... it has two significations, one properly and strictly, as for a title for which no action lies, as for a condition broken, or upon alienation in mortmain, etc.

"In another signification it is taken largely; and in this sense ... signifies the title which one has to land, as by fine, feoffment, etc. or by descent, etc. and therefore when the plaintiff makes a title in an assize, the tenant may say, let the assize come upon the title, which is as much as to say, upon the particular conveyance, &c. which he makes to. the land, etc. ...

"By release of all title to land, etc. all his right is extinct, for it shall be taken strongly against him, and in the largest sense. So when a man has title in the proper sense, either by a condition or by alienation in mortmain, the release of all his right will extinguish this title, for he has jus possidendi...

"And the English poet saith, 'For true it is that neither fraud nor might can make a title where there wanteth right."


  • Altham's Case, 8 Co. Rep. 150 (1610)
  • Haw River Land & Timber Company, Inc. v. Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation, 152 F. 3d 275 (1998)
  • Mann v Canada, [1995] 2 C.T.C. 2049
  • Re Vancouver Improvement Company, [1893] 3 BCR 601

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