California Deed Forms for Real Estate Transfers

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What types of deeds are used to transfer California real estate?

A California property owner transfers real estate using a document called a deed. A deed allows the current owners (grantors) to transfer property to new owners (grantees).1 California recognizes several types of deeds for transferring real estate. Three common deed forms are distinguished by the different warranties of title they provide (or don’t provide).

California Quitclaim Deed Form

A California quitclaim deed transfers property with no warranty of title. The new owner receives whatever title the current owner has (if any) and bears the risk that there are problems with the title. The current owner does not guarantee a clear, valid title or that the quitclaim deed will transfer an actual ownership interest in the property.

Quitclaim deeds are commonly used when a deed involves no consideration—or value provided by the new owner in exchange for the property.

California Grant Deed Form

A California grant deed transfers property with a limited warranty of title that covers only the period when the grantor owned the property.2 The current owner and new owner split the risk of title problems. The current owner is legally responsible for problems that arose while he or she owned the property, and the new owner bears the risk for any other issues.

California Warranty Deed Form

A California warranty deed transfers property with a full warranty of title. The transferor who signs the deed guarantees a valid, clear title and agrees to be responsible if any issues arise with the property’s title. A warranty deed’s warranty covers all title issues not specifically excluded from the warranty—including issues that arose before the transferor acquired the property. The transferor bears the risk of title problems, and the new owner can sue for breach of warranty if there are any title problems.

Questions about what California deed form is right for you?

Click the link below to use our guided interview. We’ll go over the options that are available in California and provide guidance on choosing the deed form that matches your goals.

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What types of estate planning deeds are used in California?

California also recognizes two types of deeds that are used in estate plans because they allow California real estate to avoid probate.

California Transfer-on-Death (TOD) Deeds

A California transfer-on-death deed—often shortened to TOD deed or TODD—allows a California property owner to name a beneficiary to inherit the property when the current owner dies.3 The owner records a California TOD deed while he or she is still living, but the deed has no effect on the owner’s rights until death. An owner who records a California TOD deed can still sell or mortgage the property (or revoke the TOD deed) for as long as the owner is alive.

California Life Estate Deed Form

A California life estate deed divides ownership into different time periods. One or more owners (the life tenants) hold title for their lifetime. One or more others (the remainder beneficiaries) receive the property when the life tenants die. A life tenant has the same rights in the property as an owner who holds complete title—except that a life tenant cannot take any actions that impair the remainder beneficiary’s interest.4 That means a life tenant cannot sell complete title to the property unless the remainder beneficiary agrees and joins in the transfer.

Attorney Practice Note: A third type of deed sometimes used in California estate planning is informally called a survivorship deed. A survivorship deed transfers real estate to two or more co-owners with a right of survivorship—which lets a deceased co-owner’s interest skip probate and pass directly to the surviving co-owner.5

An owner can create a survivorship deed that transfers title to the owner and another person as joint tenants with right of survivorship, or married co-owners can hold title as community property with right of survivorship. The downside of survivorship deeds is that the new co-owner receives an ownership interest in the property as soon as the deed is signed and recorded. The new co-owner’s interest may limit the original owner’s ability to sell or transfer the property.

Need a California transfer-on-death deed?

Transfer-on-death deeds (sometimes called beneficiary deeds) are popular probate avoidance tools in states that recognize them. Our TOD deed creation software makes it easy to create one. Click the link below to get started.

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What are the ways that multiple owners can hold title to California real estate?

More than one person, trust, or business can hold title to the same California real estate. California recognizes two principal forms of co-ownership that are available to all owners.

Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship

As the name suggests, joint tenancy with right of survivorship (abbreviated JTWROS) includes a right of survivorship between the co-owners (called joint tenants).6 A deceased joint tenant’s interest automatically passes to the surviving owners—not to the deceased co-owner’s probate estate. Joint tenants must be living people because neither businesses nor trusts have “lifetimes” that would trigger the right of survivorship.

Tenancy in Common

Tenancy in common is the default form of co-ownership in California. In most cases, co-owners are tenants in common unless the deed that gave them the property says otherwise.7 A deceased tenant in common’s interest in real estate passes to his or her probate estate.

Community Property with Right of Survivorship

California law allows a third co-ownership option for married couples called community property with right of survivorship.8 Holding title as community property with right of survivorship works similarly to joint tenancy with right of survivorship, but the property also benefits from several advantages associated with community property.

Attorney Practice Note: Multiple persons can effectively co-own California real estate using a revocable living trust. The trust’s trustee or co-trustees hold legal title to the property and manage it to benefit the trust’s beneficiaries.9 California law allows for overlap between the parties to a trust. For example, one person can be a trust’s settlor (the person who creates the trust) and also be its trustee or beneficiary.10

A trust that owns California real estate must be evidenced by a written document signed by the trustee or by the settlor.11 Trusts are a popular estate-planning tool because they are flexible and allow property to avoid probate without giving up control during life. Trust sometimes also offer tax advantages.

What are the rules for spousal ownership of California real estate?

There are special property-ownership rules when the owner of California real estate is married. An owner who is married (or plans to get married) should consider California’s rules for spousal ownership of real estate when creating a deed or deciding how to hold title to a property.

Community Property

California is one of nine U.S. states that applies community property law to real estate owned by a married couple.12 California law presumes that all property a married couple acquires during the marriage is community property unless:

  • One spouse owned the property before the marriage;
  • One spouse acquired the property after the marriage by gift or inheritance; or
  • The property represents the proceeds (profits, rents, etc.) for property within one of the first two categories.

Most property a married person acquires in California is considered community property. Each spouse has an ownership interest in real estate (or other assets) that is community property. As a practical matter, this means that both spouses must sign a deed that transfers community property—even if only one spouse’s name actually appears on the prior deed.

Spouses can choose to hold title to California real estate as community property with right of survivorship. When property is held in that way, a surviving spouse automatically receives a deceased spouse’s interest.

California Homestead Rights

California provides special treatment for a married couple’s marital home (homestead). Under California law, both spouses may claim the marital home as their homestead. Homestead status can protect the property from creditor claims in some circumstances. California law does not require a spouse who does not own the homestead to sign a deed that transfers a homestead. However, as referenced above, community property rules may require both spouses to sign the deed if the property is community property.

Where are deeds filed in California?

Each California county has a county recorder responsible for keeping the county land records.13 Deeds are recorded with the office of the county recorder for the county where the property is located.14 A recorded deed serves as official notice of the transfer to third parties.15

Attorney Practice Note: The California legislature authorized electronic recording of deeds when it passed the Electronic Recording and Delivery Act of 2004.16 Deeds can be submitted electronically if they transfer real estate located in a county with an electronic recording system. Counties may charge an additional fee for electronic recording.17

How much does it cost to file a California deed?

County recorders charge fees for recording deeds.18 California has a variety of recording fees. Not every type of fee applies to every deed, so the actual cost for recording a deed can vary by deed and by county.

The base fee for recording a California deed is $10.00 for the deed’s first page and $3.00 for each additional page.19 Counties charge additional recording fees for archiving and preservation, cross-referencing of more than one previously recorded document, indexing more than 10 names, and similar items.20 There are also extra recording fees for deeds that are not subject to documentary transfer tax.21

Does California charge a transfer tax on real estate transfers?

California has a transfer tax—called documentary transfer tax—at both the county and city level.22 The county rate is $0.55 per $500.00 of consideration, and the standard city rate is half as much as the county rate. If a city has a city transfer tax, the county must allow a credit toward the county tax in the amount paid for the city tax.23

California cities that are primarily governed by their own charters—called charter cities—have authority to charge higher city-level transfer tax rates. Rates vary considerably between charter cities, so actual transfer tax rates can be much different depending on where a property is located. See our article on California Documentary Transfer Taxes for more details.

Which deeds are exempt from California’s transfer tax?

California’s documentary transfer taxes apply specifically to deeds that transfer real estate sold for consideration over $100.00.24 Deeds that transfer property for no consideration—or consideration under $100.00—do not require payment of transfer tax.25

California’s Documentary Transfer Tax Act exempts several additional categories of deeds, including:

  • Deeds that merely reflect a change in name, form, or place of organization;26
  • Deeds to or from government agencies;27
  • Deeds issued in foreclosure or in lieu of foreclosure;28 and
  • Deeds that implement a plan of reorganization in bankruptcy or an equity receivership proceeding.29

Does California require any other forms when recording a deed?

California requires a Change of Ownership Statement with all deeds that change the ownership of California real estate.30 The form provides government agencies information used for tax assessments. The new owner typically signs and submits the change in ownership statement. If the ownership change occurs due to the owner’s death, the personal representative of the deceased owner’s estate—or the trustee if the transfer is made from a revocable living trust—typically completes the form.31

For some deeds, California also requires the new owner to sign a title insurance notice.32 The notice includes statutory language that advises the new owner that it is sometimes a good idea to purchase title insurance when acquiring real estate. A title insurance notice is required when:

  • The real estate transfer involves an escrow transaction; and
  • The buyer will not be covered by title insurance.

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  1. Cal. Civ. Code § 1091.
  2. Cal. Civ. Code § 1092.
  3. Cal. Prob. Code §5614(a).
  4. Cal. Civ. Code § 818.
  5. Cal. Civ. Code § 683.
  6. Cal. Civ. Code § 683.
  7. Cal. Civ. Code §§ 685; 686.
  8. Cal. Civ. Code § 682.1.
  9. See California Trust Law, Cal. Prob. Code §§ 15000, et. seq.
  10. Cal. Prob. Code § 15209.
  11. Cal. Prob. Code § 15206.
  12. Cal. Fam. Code § 760.
  13. Cal. Gov. Code § 27201.
  14. Cal. Gov. Code § 27280.
  15. Cal. Gov. Code § 27327.
  16. Cal. Gov. Code § 27390, et. seq.
  17. Cal. Gov. Code § 27397.
  18. Cal. Gov. Code § 27360.
  19. Cal. Gov. Code § 27361(a).
  20. See, e.g., Cal. Gov. Code §§ 27361; 27361.4; 27361.8; 27387.1.
  21. See Cal. Gov. Code §§ 27388 (extra $10.00 fee); 27388.1 (extra $75.00 fee per parcel unless deed transfers residential property to owner / occupier); 27388.2.
  22. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11911.
  23. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11931.
  24. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11911(a).
  25. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code §§ 11911; 11930.
  26. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11923(a).
  27. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11922.
  28. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11928.
  29. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11923(a).
  30. Cal. Gov. Code § 27280; Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 480(a).
  31. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 480(b).
  32. Cal. Civ. Code § 1057.6.