Does mom legally own this property?

All Woman

In 1979 my mother purchased some land and received back then a handwritten receipt. Since then the seller has died and his one surviving daughter resides in the United States. My mom has paid taxes on the property and has built a house on it. There was no formal sales agreement at the time of purchase, and a recent survey was done. What does she need to do to obtain a title for this property? Does she legally own the property?

You are concerned about the land purchased by your mother in 1979 for which you state that she paid the purchase price and received a receipt for her payment. I will assume that the receipt makes it clear that your mother paid the full purchase price at the time for the land. I also assume that after her payment she was put in possession of the land by the owner. She then paid the land taxes and built a house on it, in which I assume she has lived to this date.

You say that she recently had the land surveyed and I assume that she continued paying the land taxes and is still paying it to this date. You also state that at the time of her purchase of the land, no formal 'written' agreement was made.

My answer to your final question is that your mother may be legally entitled to the property from what you have related in your letter and with some of the assumptions mentioned above. As she is without a registered title to the property, she is not the legal proprietor, but with the circumstances you have related, she is clearly the beneficial owner of the property. As such she must take steps to become the legal owner by applying for the legal title to the land on the basis that she fully paid for it at the time of purchase, and though no agreement for sale and purchase was executed by herself and the seller, she has the receipt issued to her by the owner at the time of the transaction (which proves her purchase and is a sufficient memorandum of the sale to her). She can also adduce evidence that after her payment and being given her receipt for it, she was put into possession of it and commenced the construction of her house as well as paying the land taxes.

I state above in brackets that the receipt proves your mother's purchase and is a sufficient memorandum of the sale of the land to her. These mean that the receipt describes/identifies the land specifically or sufficiently to make it identifiable and that the sum was received from her by the owner in full payment for it. This is required in law for the receipt to be a sufficient memorandum of her purchase. This is a necessity because transactions related to lands must be in writing for them to be legally effective.

If your mother has everything I have stated above upon which she can base her application, it can be made under the Registration of Titles Act to the Registrar of Titles for her registered title to the land to be issued to her solely or with her named children jointly as tenants-in-common.

Your mother should consult an attorney-at-law to first ascertain whether the receipt is indeed a sufficient memorandum of her purchase transaction, and if it is, to prepare her application supported by her statutory declaration and all relevant documents, plus any additional statutory declarations from a person (this could be from one of the deceased's relatives or someone else) who knew of the transaction, all to be lodged with the registrar and the fee paid.

If the receipt falls short of being a sufficient memorandum, her lawyer will then advise her whether to apply to be registered as the legal owner based on her occupation of the land openly and freely for a period of at least 12 years without anyone objecting to her occupation, or that an application for a declaration that she is the owner and for consequential orders for her to be granted a registered title ought to be made instead.

She really must obtain the services of a lawyer who is experienced in land matters, to assess her receipt and her account of what happened after its issue, in order to decide the best course to take to obtain her registered title. The receipt is the vital piece of evidence of the transaction which must meet the requirements of the law.

I hope I have clarified the matter for you. Please convince her to act as quickly as she can and obtain the services of a lawyer to obtain the title and settle the matter.

Permit me to take this opportunity to wish all my readers, my editor, and the staff at the Jamaica Observer, especially of the All Woman publication, that you all have a very safe, peaceful, healthy, fulfilling and contented 2019, and that it be filled with blessings throughout the year.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.


The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.




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