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The humble property deed, the definitive proof of who owns a particular property or section of land. Much hinges on its existence, as a plot of land can be developed only with permission from the owner. It should be no surprise that entire plots have revolved around property deeds, usually finding them when they've been lost in order to prove ownership and prevent unauthorized development.

Alternatively, somebody might try to steal a deed with a known location, thinking that might give the thief possession of the property.

Overlaps with Artistic License Law when it's portrayed as though someone automatically becomes the rightful owner of the property as soon as they get the deed in their possession — it's not always that simple in Real Life.

See also Lost Will and Testament, for a different kind of plot-important legal document.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Golden Kamuy, while most of the story was a treasure hunt to find Noppera-bo's hidden stash of gold, the latter half of the story shows that the true prize awaiting the end of their journey is the papers to a plot of land he wanted to secure for the Ainu. The final arc consists of all remaining active players going to the location of the deed and fighting each other over it.

    Comic Books 
  • One Rocket Raccoon comic has Rocket hired to steal a deed from an unscrupulous land developer. Justified as the planet in question requires physical possession of the deed at all times and they just need to delay construction.
  • In Batman: A Word to the Wise, The Joker goes out to find a copy of the rare 1867 edition of "The Geography of Canada" to obtain an old land grant parchment that, according to him, would prove that his ancestors inherited all the lands of North America and thus makes him the continent's rightful ruler. His plan ultimately fails not simply because his forces are miniscule enough for Batman to overpower them, but because the land grant expired literally a day earlier, rendering his claim null and void.

    Film - Animated 
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: In The Wind in the Willows segment, Toad is arrested for stealing a motorcar, but he claims he exchanged it for the deed to Toad Hall. He calls Mr. Winkie, owner of the pub where the trade took place, to corroborate, but instead Winkie claims Toad tried to sell him the motorcar, and Toad is put in prison. Later, McBadger discovers Winkie and the weasels living in Toad Hall, with Winkie holding the deed. So our heroes have to steal the deed back to prove Toad's innocence.
  • Shrek: The plot of the first movie is set in motion when Lord Farquaad dumps a bunch of fairy tale creatures in the middle of the swamp where Shrek lives. When Shrek goes to Duloc Castle to complain, Farquaad offers Shrek the deed to the swamp (and therefore the right to evict his unwelcome guests) in exchange for rescuing Princess Fiona on Farquaad's behalf.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Rags: Throughout the film, the fact that Charlie's Wicked Stepfather, Arthur, was the one who was given ownership of his late wife's restaurant was used to explain why he could do as he pleased with it. At the end, the twist that allowed the story to have a truly happy ending was the revelation that Arthur was lying the entire time about the deed belonging to him, and that it was instead passed down to Charlie from the get-go.
  • Tall Tale centers around a boy who must protect the deed to his father's land from an evil mining company.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Marvin Acme's last will and testament includes who inherits the deed for ownership of Toontown. Several parties try to steal the will for their own ends after Acme is murdered. In the end, it turns out it was the 'blank' paper Rodger wrote an impromptu love letter to Jessica on - Marvin wrote it in disappearing-reappering ink.

    Literature 
  • The Boxcar Children: Actually subverted in book 22 (The Animal Shelter Mystery). The book revolves around the Aldens trying to prove that the land where the Greenfield Animal Shelter is located is the rightful property of the shelter's founder, Clara Newcombe. The subversion is that while the deed they found is legitimate, it isn't enough to prove this; they also need to find her father's will, which will confirm that he left the property to her, and get both documents to the state Land Records Office in time. Very fortunately, Ms. Newcombe already has the will in her possession when she's found, and despite the villains' best efforts, she and the Aldens succeed in their goal.
  • Castaways of the Flying Dutchman: The first book has the title characters follow a trail of clues to find the long-lost deeds to an idyllic village before it can be bought and destroyed by an amoral industrialist. In the end, the deeds prove that the kindly old widow Mrs. Winn inherited the village from her ancestor.
  • In Two Little Savages by Ernest Thompson-Seton, Caleb gave a deed to his farm to his son-in-law, Dick, and was thrown out at once. So, with some help from newfound friends, he comes to said son-in-law and says he also has some money to leave him, but he'll need to rewrite the deed for that. Once he gets his hands on the paper, he throws it into the hearth and holds off Dick at gunpoint until it burns up. Since it is stated that "these were the days before registration in Canada; possession of the deed was possession of the farm, and to lose the deed was to lose the land", and Caleb does have an older deed of his own safely locked away, that means within seconds, he has the full right to throw Dick off his property.

    Live-Action TV 
  • WandaVision: "Previously On" reveals that Vision, prior to his death in Avengers: Infinity War, had bought the deed to an empty lot in Westview, NJ, so that he and Wanda could build a house and live together. This deed, and all the grief surrounding it, became the catalyst for Wanda's Hex to take over Westview and kick off the series.
  • Community: The plot of season 5 episodes 9 and 10, Basic Story and Basic Sandwich, revolves around them trying to save their school from being bought out by Subway sandwiches. It is revealed that Richard Borchart, the founder of the school living in the now sealed-off basement, has a deed of land that allows them to prevent the purchase from happening.

    Video Games 
  • Downplayed in Act 1 of Dragon Age II, where Hawke and their sibling break into their grandfather's old estate (now legally owned by a slaver gang) to steal said grandfather's last will and testament, which proves that the estate should have been inherited by their mother Leandra, not their uncle Gamlen (who sold it to said slavers to pay off other debts). This stolen document, together with Hawke's later generous bribes to the Viscount's office, allows the Hawkes (sans Gamlen) to reclaim legal ownership of the estate and to move into it in Act 2.
  • Fable: The Darkwood Bordello Sidequest requires the Hero to find where the Bordello's sleazy owner hid the deed to the property. The Hero becomes the new owner by retrieving the deed and can choose to shut the Bordello down or reap the profits himself.
  • Freddi Fish 5: The final act of the game is devoted to recovering the stolen deed to Coral Cove Park in order to prove that the sea monster that's been sighted in the park is its true owner, and Marty stole the property in order to profit from it.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Link must obtain the deed to a Deku flower in Clock Town to progress in the game, which its owner will trade in exchange for the Moon's Tear. There's also an optional side quest where Link can continue to trade with other Deku who will give him the deeds to their own flowers in exchange for the deed to a flower in their preferred location.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: One of the Triforce Charts that pinpoint the location of the sunken fragments of the Triforce of Courage is located in Miss Marie's private cabana, in an island northwest of Forest Haven. The problem is that she still owns the island legally (despite living in Windfall Island), so Link has to acquire the Cabana Deed from her in order to inherit the property. He can receive it by gifting her 20 Joy Pendants as part of her incoming birthday.
  • In Love & Pies, Amelia discovers that Freya had always planned to pass the café on to her, and Raj confirms that the deed was legitimate and that she's the true owner after Freya ran away. However, this means that Amelia also inherited her debts.
  • In Saints Row (2022), the Saints try to obtain an old church to use as their headquarters. The real estate agent who owns the land is trying to turn the place into condos, so you intimidate him into giving you the deed to the land. In the process, you scare him so good that he gives you an entire briefcase's worth of deeds, which make you the legal owner of multiple plots of land around the city. This is crucial to the Saints' rise into a massive criminal empire, as their ownership of these property deeds lets them build "criminal ventures" around town to finance their operations.
  • A side quest in Star Wars: The Old Republic has some squatters in the Taris reconstruction zone ask you to prove their claim to the area by recovering the deed that was held by their ancestors back when the planet was bombed.
  • Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, episode 4: Shortly after Wallace is inducted into the Prickly Thicket golf club, the club is announced to be shut down because it doesn't have a golf course. The club does have a golf course, but the deed to it has been rendered inaccessible due to a complex security system, prompting Wallace to take on the task of cracking the security and recovering the deed. The deed troubles don't end once the deed is found, though: it turns out that the golf course covers much of town, including Wallace's own home— forcing Wallace to run for chairman in order to gain the right to destroy the deed and save the town.
  • The Yakuza franchise, being crime thrillers, inevitably had a few stories involving land deals:
    • Yakuza 0's plot revolves around the "Empty Lot", as a massive conspiracy and body count bafflingly builds up over the deed to a few miserable meters of dirt surrounded by urban decay. As it turns out, whoever owns the Lot could essentially acquire the whole area for a massive profit, enough to become the next leader of the Tojo Clan, which explains all the subterfuge.
    • The plot of Yakuza 3 kicks off when criminals steal the deed to the land Kiryu's orphanage sits on, as the entire beachside is potentially ripe for conversion into a resort or military base. Either way, it forces Kiryu to go Saving the Orphanage.

    Western Animation 
  • In the American Dad! episode "There Will Be Bad Blood", Stan and his half-brother Rusty are given their inheritance from their grandfather while visiting him in the hospital — a choice between $20,000 in cash, and the deed to a plot of land in Arizona that Stan's great great grandfather won in a kickball game. Stan saw more value in the immediate cash and tricked Rusty into taking the deed, but Stan ended up losing it by forgetting it on the bus on the way home from the hospital. Stan thinks that he was always the better, more successful brother, until he learns that Rusty pulls of tens of millions in copper mining every year on the land he owns.
  • In the Back to the Future: The Animated Series episode "A Friend in Deed", Biff finds a property deed entitling the Tannens to the land on which the Parker Ranch is built. Marty takes the time train back to the 1800s to fix the situation. Outlaw Thaddeus Tannen still succeeds in coercing Mr. Parker to sign over the land to him, but the signature disappears in Biff's hand because Marty gave Thaddeus a pen with invisible ink.
  • In DuckTales (2017), the origin of the feud between the Beagle Boys and Scrooge McDuck is that the Beagles' ancestor stole the deed to Duckburg, but Scrooge stole it back and leased it to the town council.
  • One episode of The Fairly OddParents! has Timmy Turner going back in time to the Wild West to find the deed to his dad's childhood hometown in order to prevent it from being bulldozed by Doug Dimmadome. Upon getting the deed, Timmy's dad sells it to Doug Dimmadome for pocket change, having since decided that his childhood was better off forgotten.
  • In the first season finale of Gravity Falls, Lil Gideon attempts to steal the deed to the Mystery Shack from Grunkle Stan. First, Gideon summons Bill Cipher to enter Stan's dreams and steal the code to his safe, and when that fails, Gideon uses dynamite. Word of God gets around the obvious Artistic License Law involved by explaining that the town's founder, Quentin Trembley, passed a law the basically legalized 'finder's keeper's'.
  • The premise of TaleSpin is that Baloo's Air Service went into foreclosure, and the bank seized his property, including his beloved airplane, the Sea Duck. Young entrepreneur Rebecca bought the property from the bank, renamed the business Higher For Hire, and holds the deed to the Sea Duck, conflating the deed to the small pier where the office is located with the ownership papers to the Sea Duck. Since Baloo is the only one with a pilot's license, he can still fly that plane, but only at Rebecca's discretion as his boss.

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