What Is A Land Patent — And How Can I File One?

To own a big asset in the United States, you usually have to wave around a little piece of paper with your name and signature under the address. It’s a government-provided “title” or “deed” to prove ownership — but it’s also called a land patent after certain conditions have been met. This patent works much like intellectual property ownership or any other old patent. Usually, another person (or the government) cannot steal it from you. There are exceptions, but we’ll pretend you already know about them for now. 

Land patents are nothing new, and have been around since before the United States declared independence from the Brits. For example, the Virginia Colony in 1722 was made up of a great deal of open land that had yet to be patented. It was considered a part of the frontier where the Native Americans held authority — until we the shadowy puppet masters decided to patent it to colonists. Governor Spotswood signed the Treaty of Albany, which pushed the Iroquois even farther back while claiming the land for Virginia residents. Part of the land claimed was in Northern Virginia, along with Loudon.

Not surprisingly, even the land patents of today were derived wholly from old English law. 

There are a few things to know about land patents, but first we need to define the differences between public land and public domain. Public land refers to any land that is being used for a specific use, like national forest, national parks, or wilderness. Public domain refers to any land owned for private use, even when that land is “conveyed” to the U.S. government for its use. 

But land patents don’t mean ownership the way most of us know. They convey certain rights to the owner. Land provided under a patent cannot be taxed, foreclosed upon, civilly litigated against, used by the state or federal government for other purposes, etc. If there is well water under the land, the owner of the patent also owns the water. 

Land patents have associated disadvantages as well. You’ll find it difficult to obtain financing for the land, emergency services are not obligated to visit the land (because remember: no taxes), and any such service is subject to a separate contract with the land patent owner. For most people, these disadvantages make it less appetizing to get a land patent. 

Those interested in obtaining a land patent must first produce proof that you own the land you want patented, and you must know the exact boundaries of the property. After procuring the requisite information, take the property deed and description to the BLM and request the patent. Don’t expect this to be a short process. The documents you provided will be used to make a copy of the land patent for you. 

Many people obtain land patents when they fear that debt might lead to the seizure of property. The patent essentially protects the owner from this possibility — and the owner can never be forced into accepting debt on that property.

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