The Importance and Nature of the Register of Deeds

Ownership of rights in and claims on property constitute one of the chief forms of wealth in American society. Accurate descriptions of property help society avoid wasteful battles over boundaries and rights. Records of the existence and exact nature of those rights are keys to orderly economic activity relating to that property. The Register of Deeds is able to tell who, what, and when about property. This function is extremely important.  Local government property tax base is defined from records of the ROD.

The responsibilities of the office are set forth in the Wisconsin Statutes. The Register of Deeds serves a statewide purpose, although elected at the county level.

The general nature of the office of the Register of Deeds is described as ministerial. The ROD has no discretion about whether or not to perform tasks required by the Wisconsin Statutes. Nevertheless, an opinion of the Wisconsin Attorney General qualifies this general position somewhat.

The Attorney General says that the ROD must read the law and judge whether the law requires the ROD to perform a duty. In other words, the ROD must not assume that every document presented at the office must be recorded or filed. Judgments have to be made. Even more specifically, the statutes require that the ROD judge whether plat documents meet the statutory criteria to be recorded.

In summary, the Register of Deeds must, from time to time, exercise judgment and decide whether statutory conditions are met before accepting a document. A good rule to follow is to consult the corporation counsel or district attorney when the proper action is unclear.. 

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