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Affixing Excess Tax Stamps on a Recorded Deed

Adopted: October 19, 2001

Opinion rules that a closing lawyer may not counsel or assist a client to affix excess excise tax stamps on an instrument for registration with the register of deeds.

Inquiry #1:

The excise tax stamps affixed to a recorded instrument of conveyance or deed are based upon the sales price for the property reported to the register of deeds. See GS §105-228.32. Therefore, the purchase price for real property can be calculated from the tax stamps on the deed. Appraisers, developers, real estate agents, and lenders rely upon the tax stamps to evaluate the purchase price of real property. If excess tax stamps are affixed to a deed, the higher value reflected by the tax stamps may deceive third parties. For example, a developer sells a lot to a buyer for a certain purchase price but gives the buyer a credit at closing. The lawyer closing the transaction obtains tax stamps for the deed based upon the higher price recited in the purchase agreement even though the actual consideration paid by the buyer is less. To encourage sales of other lots in the development at inflated prices, the developer claims that he sold the lot for the inflated price reflected in the tax stamps.

May a lawyer who closes a real estate transaction have the register of deeds affix more tax stamps to the deed than are warranted by the actual consideration paid for the property?

Opinion #1:

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Rule 8.4(c). Members of the public regularly rely upon the information about the price of real property that can be derived from tax stamps on recorded instruments. Therefore, a lawyer may not counsel or help a client to put excess tax stamps on an instrument when it is recorded with the register of deeds because such conduct involves dishonesty and misrepresentation. See also  Rule 1.2(d) (prohibiting a lawyer from counseling a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows is fraudulent).

Inquiry #2:

May a lawyer draft for a client a purchase agreement for real property wherein the purchase price recited in the written agreement is greater than the actual consideration the parties have orally agreed will be exchanged at closing?

Opinion #2:

No. See  opinion #1.

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