Acquiring Property Rights Through Confusion

Cite this article as:"Acquiring Property Rights Through Confusion," in The Business Professor, updated January 8, 2015, last accessed May 26, 2020,
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Aquire Ownership in Property Through Confusion
This video explains how one can acquire an ownership interest in property through confusion.

Next Article: Deeds – Transferring Real Property Interests


How is an ownership interest transferred between individuals?

Confusion – In some cases, individuals will combine their property in ways that makes it indistinguishable. In this situation, there is an amalgam of property to which the contributors have a claim. If a contributor seeks to withdraw her property, she will not receive the exact same property contributed.

  • Example: Think of farmers placing their grain collectively in storage silos. In such a case, the individuals contributing property retain ownership of an amount of property equal to their original contribution. In a way, this is a transfer of property between individuals.

Discussion: Can you think of other situations where combined property of multiple individuals can become indistinguishable? Are there any situations in which confusion of combined property could detriment one or more of the property owners?

Practice Question: Bert is a cattle rancher in Texas. Every year, he drives his cattle from his West Texas ranch to a more northern location where there is more water and better grazing. At the end of the year, he drives the cattle back down to his southern ranch. Bert has never felt the need to brand or tag his cattle until time to send them to the market. Unfortunately, during one of his annual cattle drives, many of his cows become mixed in with a neighbor rancher’s cattle. Neither Bert nor his neighbor can identify their actual cows, so they agree to divide the cows based upon size and total number. In this scenario, has any change of ownership taken place?

Proposed Answer

  • Confusion is the legal term for property that has been inseparably intermingled, so that determining the rightful owner is nearly impossible. Confusion allows one property owner to acquire title to someone else’s property because of their intertwined belongings-and vice versa. In the practice question,  there has been a transfer or change of ownership as the ranchers will each possess cattle that were previously owned by the other.

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