Fraction are not your friend. Those of you who have taken the RL/RPL/CPL certification exams will remember a section discussing this issue, and those of you who haven’t become certified (yet) will have run into it in the field. However, this is an issue that you might miss completely if you aren’t looking for it. Here’s why:
Tim owns a 1/4 mineral interest in Tract A. Tim conveys to John a 1/8 mineral interest. What mineral interest do Tim and John own?
Does John own 1/8 of the minerals under Tract A? Or does John own 1/8 of Tim’s 1/4 mineral interest? You might say, “well it depends on the language in the deed. Was it conveyed as 1/8 of Tim’s interest, or an undivided 1/8 interest?” Unfortunately sometimes the conveyance is just as vague as listed. The problem is that if you aren’t looking for an issue like this, you might skim right over an issue like this.
The inexperienced title examiner may assume that Tim and John both own a 1/8 mineral interest. This is a classic ‘double fraction problem’. Of course, this problem is easily avoided if the conveyance is carefully drafted using language such as “I convey to John an undivided 1/8 mineral interest” or “I convey to John 1/8 of the mineral interest I currently own.”
Fractions can also cause trouble even when they are intended to clarify an interest. Consider the following scenario:
Joe conveys to Mike an undivided 1/10 mineral interest in that certain tract, being 10 mineral acres…..
Most people would correctly assume that Mike sold Joe 10 mineral acres out of his 100 mineral acres. However, what if 10 years later it is determined that Joe owned 110 mineral acres in the referenced tract at that time? Does Mike own 11 mineral acres or the specified 10? At that point several parties will likely end up in court due to the ambiguity.
While the examiner may not be able to address this issue while researching the chain of title, it is important to note these issues as they arise. When leasing mineral interests that may be affected by such problems, it may be important to ensure the Lessor does not strike the mother hubbard or coverall clause.
Ultimately, be careful of fractions, because they are not your friend. Have you run into any other situations where improper use of fractions clouded title? Tell us about it in the comments below!