Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of deed


  1. A written and signed document which sets out the things that have to be done or recognition of the parties towards a certain object. Under older common law, a deed had to be sealed; that is, accompanied not only by a signature but with an impression on wax onto the document. The word deed is also most commonly used in the context of real estate because these transactions must usually be signed and in writing.

Related terms

Definition of deed


    From Old English dēd, (West Saxon) dǣd, from Proto-Germanic *-dēdi-, from Proto-Indo-European *dʰēti-. Cognate with Dutch daad, German Tat, Swedish d�d. The PIE root is also the source of Ancient Greek θέσις (thesis), Latin conditio.



deed (plural deeds)

  1. An action or act; something that is done.

    I will punish whomever is responsible for this deed!

  2. A brave or noteworthy action; a feat or exploit.

    The knight's deeds won the hearts of the people.

  3. Action or fact, as opposed to rhetoric or deliberation.

    I have fulfilled my promise in word and in deed.

  4. (law) A legal contract showing bond.

    I inherited the deed to the house.



to deed (third-person singular simple present deeds, present participle deeding, simple past and past participle deeded)

  1. (informal) To transfer real property by deed.

    He deeded over the mineral rights to some fellas from Denver.

Further reading

A deed is a signed and usually sealed legal instrument in writing used to grant a right. Deeds have historically been part of the broader category of instruments under seal, requiring only the affixing of a common seal to render them valid. Today, however, deeds are instruments in solemn form which require the author's signature and a number of attesting witnesses. Deeds are also referred to as agreements under seal, contracts by deed, or specialties and are often used by lawyers when a very formal document is required.

Deeds can be described as contract-like as they require the mutual agreement of more than one person. Deeds can therefore be distinguished from covenants, which being also under seal, are unilateral promises. However, a deed differs from a simple contract in that it is enforceable without consideration, has a liability limitation period of double that of a contract, and allows for a third party beneficiary to enforce an undertaking in the deed, thereby overcoming the doctrine of privity. In its narrowest sense, a deed is any formal document that confirms or transfers interest or right of ownership (title) to an asset from one person to another, often using a description of its metes and bounds, e.g., conveyances, transfers, mortgages, charges, or leases. However, by the general definition, powers of attorney, commissions, patents, and even diplomas conferring academic degrees are also deeds.

Traditionally and under common law, to be valid and enforceable, a deed must fulfill several requirements:

  • It must state on its face it is a deed, using wording like "This Deed..." or "executed as a deed".
  • It must indicate that the instrument itself conveys some privilege or thing to someone. This is indicated by using the word hereby or the phrase by these presents in the clause indicating the gift.
  • The grantor must have the legal ability to grant the thing or privilege.
  • The grantee must have the legal capacity to receive it.
  • It must be executed by the grantor in presence of the prescribed number of witnesses, known as instrumentary witnesses; this is known as being in solemn form.
  • A seal must be affixed to it. Originally, affixing seals made persons parties to the deed and signatures were optional, but most jurisdictions made seals outdated, and now the grantor and witnesses signatures are primary.
  • It must be delivered to (delivery) and accepted by the grantee (acceptance).
  • It should be properly acknowledged before a competent officer, most often a notary public.

Conditions attached to the acceptance of a deed are known as covenants. A deed indented or indenture is one executed in two or more parts according to the number of parties, which were formerly separated by cutting in a curved or indented line known as the chirograph. A deed poll is one executed in one part, by one party, having the edge polled or cut even, and includes simple grants and appointments.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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