If you need to change the title on your house in California, be sure you have handled all steps in the process correctly. Otherwise, you might not have the rights you think you do. On the other hand, you might retain ownership responsibilities you no longer should have.
What is Title on a House?
The title to a property defines who owns the building or the land on which it sits. The name or names on the title, which also refers to the “listed owner,” have the legal right to do many things with the property, including:
- occupy the property
- transfer ownership
- sell the property
You probably have heard someone refer to “holding title” on a property. This sounds as if the owner possesses a physical document. Although a physical record may exist, the possession of this document does not guarantee title or ownership. Instead, the chain of title determines ownership of a property. You can review the chain of title by doing a title search. Such a search will show who is listed as the owner of the property now as well as who has owned the property in the past. If there are no mortgages or other debts (liens) attached to the property, then the title is clear.
Deeds Have Different Purposes
A deed conveys ownership in property from one person to another. The deed identifies the name of the grantor (person in possession of the property) and grantee (the person whom the property is being transferred or sold to).
Different types of deeds convey different legal interest. For example, a quitclaim deed transfers property to a grantee with no kind of guarantee that the title is free from any liens or that another person can claim it. On the other hand, a grant deed (a different kind of deed) assures the grantee that no one else has a right to the property.
Changing Title on a California House
To change the title on a deed, you must record a new deed with the county recorder’s office.
First, decide how you would like to hold the title. If you own a home with your spouse, then you might want to hold the title as community property. Title could involve a right of survivorship or revocable trust.
Secondly, you must fill out the right deed documents. Selecting the correct documents involves evaluating how you will hold the deed, then locating the proper paperwork online. For example, title companies typically offer a variety of different types of blank deeds online. Just remember, a do-it-yourself deed that is filled out incorrectly might not change the title on your property the way you intend. When this happens, it could make things complicated when you want to sell the house in the future. We often see people who are dealing with the adverse effects of changing the title on their house or other real property without professional help. Unfortunately, errors in this critical step of changing title could cost someone thousands of dollars to fix.
Third, you must record the documents correctly to change the title. Failure at any point in this process can affect your title and have serious long-term effects.
What Could Go Wrong?
In the middle of writing this article, I received a phone call from a customer.
Facts of the situation:
- Two single women had taken title to a property.
- Their goal was to include a right of survivorship should one of them die.
- Neither women had a will.
- One of them had recently passed away.
The problem started when they didn’t hire a professional to help prepare their deed. After all, the two friends thought it was a simple process, and they found a free form online. What could possibly go wrong with such simple paperwork?
What went wrong:
In their situation, a lot went wrong. As it turned out, when the friends took title to the property, the deed did not indicate the type of ownership between themselves. Remember, when the property was purchased, the friends intended to have the property go to the surviving co-owner should one of them pass away. Unfortunately, the Deed, as it was prepared, did not provide for this.
As a result of this title error, there was no way to transfer the property to the surviving co-owner. That is to say, the surviving co-owner was facing filing probate to transfer the deceased co-owner’s interest. Furthermore, since the two people were not married (and the deceased co-owner did not have a will) the deceased co-owner’s interest would not transfer to the surviving co-owner as was the intent of the two friends when the property was purchased. Instead, under California intestate succession laws, the decedent’s family members were legally entitled to the deceased co-owner’s share of the property. The good news is that the deceased co-owner’s family was aware of the intent of the parties. As a result, they were willing to cooperate in signing over the decedent’s property interest to the surviving co-owner. Unfortunately, to get to that point, the situation required lengthy probate and unnecessary expenses because of the improper title.
Other Paperwork Required to Change Title
When transferring title, homeowners usually must file additional paperwork, such as preliminary change in ownership reports, transfer tax affidavits, and other items. Recording a deed comes with a filing fee, and you may have to pay to transfer taxes or other fees as well. It may be less expensive and reduce the risk to your title to hire a professional document preparation service to help you with this process.
We recommend you contact us before buying a boilerplate document online. At A People’s Choice, we can help you draft the deed and supplemental documents you need to file with the county’s recorder office to change title on a house or other property. Our services include preparing the necessary preliminary change in ownership report and the new cover sheet. Keep in mind that you will have to pay recording fees to transfer deed title. The Recorder’s Office may also require payment of an additional transfer fee, if the transfer is not exempt from t his tax. We provide flat fee legal document preparation services to California residents and businesses. Contact us today to get started or call 800-747-2780.
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