Updated November 16, 2020:

Land Patents

Land patents can be confusing concepts, as most people today wouldn’t understand why someone would obtain a land patent. We assume that, once someone purchases a property, he or she owns it outright. However, land patents provide information on those who have in fact gotten the title to their property directly from the government, rather than purchasing it from another person. Examples of this could be land obtained through land grants, military bounty land warrants, cash sales, mineral or mining, homesteads, and the like.

It is important to remember that a land patent is the title to the land and not necessarily anything else, i.e., the property that sits on it. But, with that being said, some people may own property but not necessarily the land that it sits on.

When speaking of property ownership, most people who own their homes have a deed or title that is issued to them. In exchange, that person pays property taxes and a monthly mortgage payment. But land ownership takes actual ownership to a new level. Particularly, a land patent means that your land cannot be lawfully seized for failure to pay taxes. Therefore, no mortgage or tax liability can take away your land.

Benefits of Land Patents

  • Land patent holders need not honor liens on their property, including those imposed due to unpaid taxes.
  • Land patent holders cannot have their land taken away from them by seizure or eviction.
  • Land patents can be transferred through inheritance.
  • Land patent holders can use their land as they see fit, i.e., mineral, drilling, etc.

You’ll want to run a land patent search to ensure that any land or property you purchase is free from a land patent. The actual land records were formed by the government to help prevent ownership disputes. So if a piece of land was passed down to relatives, you can find such information by running a land patent search. The wills or deeds should show the transfers.

The land patent itself identifies the patent holder’s name, the description of the land, the patent number, the date in which the land became patented, and the office that issued the patent. Federal land patents may provide additional information regarding family members, previous residence, marriage/death certificates, affidavits, and other similar documents. This generally occurs when the land is passed down through the family line over a number of years.

Jurisdictions for Land Patent Searches

  • State land states include Vermont, Maine, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Hawaii, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, and Georgia. The remaining states are federal land states. In order to review federal land state searches, you can visit the BLM-GLO Land Patent Search database.

  • Land transfers from a state to an individual, or transfers from one individual to another in any state, can be found in that respective state’s land office. These would not be part of the BLM-GLO Land Patent Search.

  • For land transfers in Texas, you’ll want to visit the General Land Office website and run a search to find out the history of that land.

  • For land searches in the State of Pennsylvania, you can run a search on the Pennsylvania State Archive website.

When you run a search via the BLM-GLO search database, you’ll find only those individuals who were granted a federal land patent, which includes military bound land, grants, cash sales, and credit-type patents.

Land patent applications are generally abandoned, as the process is time-consuming, expensive, and does not have the highest success rate. Approximately 40 percent of homesteaders who have applied for a land patent have finished their application, while the remaining 60 percent abandoned their applications. Only 25 percent of timberland applications received their patent. If someone began to submit an application, but thereafter abandoned it, they will still show up in the application papers, but not in the land patent search results. If you run into this issue, you might be able to potentially obtain copies of those unfinished applications. But you’ll want to run a lengthy historical search on that land to find out who currently holds legal status to it.

If you need help with learning more about land patents or need help identifying if a land patent exists, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.