Q. Over the past 20 years, I have purchased several pieces of real estate. For one reason or another, five different lawyers have handled the legal aspects of the purchase. Naturally, various deeds, surveys and other important papers are involved in these transactions. These lawyers have a habit of retaining all of the documents and then the scoundrels file them away in a closet where they are not usually available, and no amount of pleading, begging or coercion can pry them loose.

It seems tootome that when one pays whatever fee the attorney assesses and the transaction is finalized, the attorney should at that time turn over all pertinent documents to the purchaser of the property. How can we obtain documents from our attorney without offending him or her?

A: I do not necesarily agree that all llawyers are scoundrels, but you certainly have made a very important point.

Real estate settlement documents are extremely important, and you should have at least a copy of every single piece of paper that was involved in the settlement. These documents include, for example, the deed, the deed of trust, the promossory note, the survey, the insurance policy, the settlement sheet, affidavits of no liens from the seller, and other miscellaneous papers the title attorney of the lender may require.

The deed to the property is recorded after settlement, and should be sent directly to the buyer. When you go to settlement, inspect the deed to determine what mailing address is included. Every deed generally contains mailing instructions so that the recorder of deeds in the jurisdiction where the property is located will send the deed to that mailing address after the deed has been recorded. You should be informed, however, that while it is helpful for you to have the original recorded deed, it is not an important document for safekeeping. The original is recorded among the land records, and it is the recordation that is the evidence of the title.

The original deed of trust and the original promissory note are held by the lender. When you make final payment, the lender will mark the promissory note "paid and cancelled" and you should get that canceled note back for your files. The deed of trust should also be returned to you, after it has been released from the land records.

Clearly, however, you should get copies of all of these documents at settlement. If the lawyer or title company conducting the settlement does not volunteer to give you these documents, don't be hesitant to ask for the copies--and make sure that you take them with you at settlement. Lawyers and title companies often tend to put the file away, and time plays havoc with memory. If you want the documents, get them at the settlement table.

Don't worry about offending the lawyer. If you do not have the documents you need, write the lawyer, give him or her as much information as you possibly can about the settlement (i.e., the property address, the buyer's name and the seller's name) and request a complete set of all of your documents. Presumably most settlement attorneys and title companies will keep these files for a long period of time.

If there are problems with getting some of these documents, you can obtain a photocopy of the deed from the recorder of deeds office and a copy of the note and deed of trust from your lender.

Whether or not these lawyers are "scoundrels," they have a legal and ethical obligation to give you the copies of your own documents.