The terms, “accession” and “confusion” describe situations in which one party may acquire the property of another party. Under normal circumstances, if you take someone else’s property, referred to as conversion, you may be legally required to either return the property or pay the rightful owner for the value of those goods. The exceptions to this general rule are accession and confusion.

Accession and confusion are legally acceptable theories in some states, while other states do not accept either doctrine. For instance, in California, original property owners are allowed to reclaim their property no matter how much it has been improved by someone else. However, the property owner must reimburse the second party for their labor in making those improvements.

What is Accession?

Generally, accession refers to the act of acquiring the property or goods of one party by another, and improving the worth of those goods, or turning that property into something better.

When an individual uses additional materials or contributes their own labor in order to improve or increase the value of someone else’s property, it may be possible for that person to acquire title to the finished product by accession. Accession is done in good faith; if property was acquired through a bad faith dealing, the property remains the owner’s and the trespasser cannot recover labor or materials.

An example of accession is as follows: If one person’s property is covered in unwanted alfalfa, and he allows someone else to come cut that alfalfa and turn it into bales of feed for livestock, the person who transformed the property (alfalfa) may acquire the finished product (bails of feed) by accession.

Accession may also occur when someone changes another person’s property entirely. For instance, if one person took a bushel of his neighbor’s cotton that was laying around and turned that cotton into a pair of socks, he may acquire title to the improved cotton (socks) by accession.

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What is Confusion?

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.

Confusion also applies to goods that have mixed and in turn, created something new. Both parties would then be entitled to partial ownership of the property.

Should I Contact a Property Attorney?

If you have any questions regarding accession and confusion, you should speak with a property attorney in your area. A local real estate lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights and provide guidance on any legal matters dealing with accession and confusion.

If necessary, your attorney will also represent your best interests in court should any claims of property conversion be brought against you.