Real Estate Title in California

In California, there are several ways to hold title to real property. Property can be owned by individuals as sole owner or as co-owners. Legal entities can also hold title to real property. If you have any questions as to which method is best, you should consult an attorney.

Sole ownership means that the property is owned by one person or entity. There are four different types of sole ownership. Ownership can be held by:

  • A Single Person: An individual who is not and has never been legally married. Example: Jane Doe, a single woman.
  • An Unmarried Person: An individual who was previously married but not legally divorced, or who has been in a registered domestic partnership that has been legally dissolved. Example: Jane Doe, an unmarried woman.
  • A Married Person (or Registered Domestic Partner) as their Sole and Separate Property: When a person is married or has a registered domestic partner and desires to purchase, they can hold title to California real estate in his or her name alone. Usually the spouse or registered domestic partner provides consents to this by executing and recording a Quit Claim Deed. Example: Jane Doe, a married woman, as her sole and separate property or Jane Doe, a registered domestic partner, as her sole and separate property.
  • A Legal Entity: An entity such as a corporation, LLC, partnership or other such legal entity. Example: Dawson Engineering, Inc., a California corporation.
  • Transfer on Death: California now allows for an owner of certain real property to hold title in a Transfer on Death Deed. This means that real property ownership is retained with the owner until such time as the owner dies. A Transfer on Death deed allows for the property to transfer to a designated beneficiary named in the deed and avoids probate or the necessity of setting up a Living Trust.
  • Revocable Living Trust: Real estate in California can be held by a revocable living trust. Title to the California real estate is held by the Trustee or Trustees of the trust who retains complete control over the trust and has complete power of direction over the real property. Holding title to real property held by a trust will allow the transfer to the beneficiaries of the trust after the death of the trustee without the need to go through probate. Example: Jane Doe, Trustee of the Jane Doe Revocable Trust under Declaration of Trust dated March 1, 2009.
  • Co-Ownership by Person or Entity: Co-ownership means that the property is owned by more than one person or entity. There are several different types of co-ownership. The two most common are joint tenancy and tenancy-in-common.

Joint Tenancy : California Civil Code defines joint tenancy as a joint interest owned by two or more persons in equal shares. The joint tenancy can be created by a transfer that expressly declares the interest to be joint tenancy. The primary benefit of joint tenancy is the right of survivorship. Title to the real estate will transfer to the surviving joint tenant upon the death of a joint tenant without the need to go through probate.

Tenants-in-Common: When title is held as tenants-in-common, individuals or entities own an identified and specific percentage interest in a certain real property. Each tenant-in-common owner can hold a different percentage ownership in the real property. With tenants-in-common, there is no right of survivorship, and a tenant-in-common interest will not bypass probate.

california deeds and real property transfers

In California, community property is defined in California Civil Code as property purchased either by a husband and wife (or registered domestic partners) together or by a husband or wife (or registered domestic partners) individually. In California, real estate acquired and held by a married person is deemed to be community property of the husband and wife unless otherwise stated. The husband and wife (or registered domestic partners) both have the right to dispose of one-half of the community property under community property law. The one-half of the community property will automatically go to the surviving spouse if the deceased spouse did not otherwise dispose of the community property to someone besides his or her spouse. Example: John Smith and Mary Jane Smith, as husband and wife as community property.

  • Community Property with Rights of Survivorship: When property is expressly declared in the transfer document to be community property with rights of survivorship, the property will, upon the death of one of the spouses (or registered domestic partners), pass to the survivor without going through probate. Example: James Friedman and Sally Friedman, as husband and wife as community property with Rights of Survivorship. Click here for more information about the differences between holding property as community property with rights of survivorship as compared to joint tenancy as explained below.
  • Joint Tenancy: California Civil Code defines joint tenancy as a joint interest owned by two or more persons in equal shares. The joint tenancy can be created by a transfer that expressly declares the interest to be joint tenancy. The primary benefit of joint tenancy is the right of survivorship. Title to the real estate will transfer to the surviving joint tenant upon the death of a joint tenant without the need to go through probate. Example: James Friedman and Sally Friedman, husband and wife as joint tenants.
  • Tenants-In-Common: Individuals or entities can acquire an identified and specific percentage interest in a certain real property. Each tenant-in-common owner can hold a different percentage ownership in the real property. With tenants-in-common, there is no right of survivorship, and a tenant-in-common interest will not bypass probate. Example: Jane Doe, a single woman, as to an undivided 50% interest, and Mark Doe, a single man as to an undivided 50% interest, as tenants-in-common.
  • Community Property with Rights of Survivorship: When property is expressly declared in the transfer document to be community property with rights of survivorship, the property will, upon the death of one of the spouses (or registered domestic partners), pass to the survivor without going through probate. Example: James Friedman and Sally Friedman, as husband and wife as community property with Rights of Survivorship. Click here for more information about the differences between holding property as community property with rights of survivorship as compared to joint tenancy as explained below.

california deeds and real property transfers

These are just some of the more common ways to acquire, hold and dispose of real estate in California. It is provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial or tax advice. Since there are significant legal and tax implications depending on how you choose to hold title to your real property, you should consult with an attorney before making a decision on how you will hold title to California real estate.

To learn about the different types of transfer deeds available in California, click here.

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Title TransfersPrice
Grant Deed, Quitclaim Deed, Affidavit Death of Joint Tenant, Trust Transfer Deed, Transfer on Death Deed or other California deed
Includes preparation of Preliminary Change of Ownership Report
$200
Warranty or Out-of-State Deeds
(Non-California Deeds)
$275
Timeshare Deeds $275
Other MattersPrice
Claim for Exclusion of Reassessment (parent/child or grandparent/grandchild)$125 (discounted to $100 if prepared with deed)
Promissory Note secured by Deed of Trust$325
Request for Special Notice re Deed of Trust$125
Order copy of last transfer document/deed$30