A deed is a document that transfers property. Different types of deeds transfer property in different ways, under different circumstances. Deed types also vary in different parts of the country. In California, there are three common deeds: grants deeds, quitclaim deeds and deeds of trust.
Grant deeds are said to transfer property outright. They are signed by a party (a grantor) who is selling or otherwise transferring a property to another identified party (the grantee) and expressly grants the property to them. In some states, this type of deed--with slightly different characteristics--is called a warranty deed.
As opposed to granting or actively transferring an actual property interest, a quitclaim deed gives up or releases a property interest that may or may not exist. It gives up any interest in the property by the person signing the document but does not grant this interest to any named party.
Both deeds must contain similar types of information: a legal description of the property, name or names of the parties transferring the property, a statement indicating the property is being transferred and the signature of the person granting or giving up the property. Although there is no legal requirement that deeds be notarized and recorded, it would be unwise not to do so. A deed that is not notarized may be challenged, especially if one of the signatories is no longer living. Recorded liens will take precedence over an unrecorded trust deed (used for mortgages).
The most significant difference between grant deeds and quitclaim deeds is the level of guarantee. In a grant deed, the grantor (the person selling or transferring the property away) states the property has not been sold to anyone else and that the property title is not challenged or otherwise encumbered (except to the extent already disclosed). There is no guarantee in a quitclaim deed. The person signing this document is not called a grantor and he may not in fact even have had any actual interest in the property.
In circumstances in which it is unclear whether someone may have an interest to a property--there is a "cloud" on the title--a quitclaim deed is often signed by the party who does not in fact make a claim to the title. Another common use of a quitclaim deed is subsequent to a divorce when one party surrenders his interest in the property to the remaining spouse. Title companies will usually not insure a property title before a purchase unless a grant deed is used.