American law is full of expressions that derive from the Latin language. The reason is that U.S. law derives from British common law, which the Romans brought to British shores during the days of the Roman Empire. Some expressions like alibi and versus are now so ubiquitous they are used in everyday language. Others, like et al. require a little more explanation.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Et al. means “and others.” It is a shorthand way of referencing other property owners whose names are not written in full.
What Does Et Al Mean?
Et al. is an abbreviation of et alia and it means “and others.” Most commonly, the expression indicates other authors in a bibliographic list, for example, “Rodgers, Madison and Chambers et al.” It’s also commonly used in court documents to show that more than one individual is the plaintiff or defendant in a case – “Michael Simmons et al. vs Acme Engineering Company.”
In this respect, “et al.” is a lot like “etc.” – etcetera, meaning “and the rest.” However, while etc. refers to a list of things, et al. refers exclusively to a list of people. There should always be a period after et al. to show it is an abbreviation.
Et Al in Real Estate
In the same way that et al. denotes the several parties involved on one side of a legal case, the expression can also appear in property deeds to reference the many people who are named on a legal title. If a property is owned by three brothers, Darren Pitt, Gareth Pitt and Nathaniel Pitt, for example, then a real estate document may refer to the “property owned by Darren Pitt et al.”
The phrase itself might appear in multiple places wherever an abbreviated list of people is sufficient to describe a property’s ownership, for example:
- In a property description: “the property known as 1078 Town Street conveyed to the grantor by deed of Darren Pitt, et al.”
- When referring to easements or encumbrances affected a title, “the property is transferred subject to a right of way granted to Darren Pitt et al. and recorded in Book 1560 Page 86”
When Not to Use Et Al
Et al. should not be used in the deed that transfers the property to its new owners. By law, all the grantors (persons selling or transferring the property) and grantees (persons buying or receiving the property) must be listed in full so their names can appear in the land records when the deed is recorded. All the grantors must sign the deed to ensure that the legal title is effectively transferred to the new owners.
It’s only in subsequent documents that the phrase et al. can be used, as a shorthand way of referencing the original deed. Use of the phrase does not affect legal ownership in any way – the three Pitt brothers would still own the legal title, even if future documents mention only Darren et al.
Et Al on Property Tax Bills
For many homeowners, their first encounter with the phrase et al. will be on their property tax bill. This simply indicates that the person named on the bill includes others as well. For instance, for the property owned jointly by Darren, Gareth and Nathaniel Pitt, the tax bill may be addressed to "Darren Pitt et al." Revenue departments tend to use several abbreviations or acronyms on their property tax bills. Questions regarding these should be directed to the local municipality.