Translating notary terms 4: Is “deed” a good translation for escritura pública?

“Deed” is sometimes used as a translation for escritura pública. Is it a good translation?

What is a deed?

A deed is a formal legal document. In England and Wales, transfers of land, mortgages, powers of attorney, some business agreements and wills must be executed as deeds. In the US, deeds are only required for real property transactions.

A deed must be in writing, signed, witnessed, delivered and stated to be a deed on its face. Unlike contracts, deeds can be executed unilaterally and do not require consideration.

A deed (anciently “an evidence“) is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions, sealed. It is commonly associated with transferring (conveyancing) title to property.


How does it compare to an escritura pública?

Deeds and escrituras are formal documents that have different requirements. The main difference being that deeds do not have to be executed in public form before a notary.

Three options

There are three stances you can take on using “deed” as a translation for escritura pública.

Use it all the time

First, you may decide to use “deed” all the time as an equivalent to — and default translation for — escritura pública.

People who take this stance say that both instruments are similar enough in nature to be considered equivalents. They are both formal documents. They are both something other than a contract — the other important type of formal document. They can both be executed unilaterally, and they both have similar albeit different requirements.

Never use it

Second, you may choose to never use it.

Translators adopting the stance say that because the requirements for both documents are different, “deed” will always be an inaccurate if not a misleading rendering of escritura pública.

Sometimes use it

Third, you may take the middle ground. After a long time in the never-use-it camp, I now take this stance.

This approach entails using “deed” only in contexts when “deed” is used in English or when it is useful (e.g., to signpost the formal nature of an instrument when the alternatives talked about here don’t work).

In my experience, this means only using it for documents related to real property transactions. This leads to translations like “mortgage deed”, “title deed”, “grant deed” and “deed of (purchase and) sale”.

I don’t think it’s helpful to use “deed” in translations of documents that have common-law equivalents that don’t include “deed” in their names (e.g., will and power of attorney), even if these documents are deeds in the target system (e.g., England and Wales).

For systems where such non-real property documents do not have to be deeds (e.g., the US), you’ll especially want to avoid “deed” in the translation of these terms.

There you have it

“Deed” may not be such a crazy translation for escritura pública after all.


See this page and:

On deeds

CMS. Top tips on executing contracts
Morrisons Solicitors. Have you signed it right?
Rocket Lawyer. Execution of deeds
The Law Dictionary. Deed
Thomson Reuters. Deed
Wikipedia. Deed

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

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