California Deed Requirements

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Formatting Standards for California Deeds

California formatting standards deal with the arrangement and format of each element of California deeds. California deeds must meet the following formatting requirements.


The standard page size for recorded deeds in California is 8½ × 11 inches (letter size).1 County recorders will accept larger documents up to 8½ × 14 inches (legal size), but documents larger than letter size may be subject to additional recording fees. Paper used for a California deed must be of good enough quality to allow for clear copies and digital images.2


A deed’s text must be printed with sufficiently large font and dark enough ink to allow for clear copies and digital images.3 Spacing should be no more than nine lines per vertical inch and no more than 22 characters and spaces per horizontal inch (for at least 3 inches in one sentence).4


The top margin of a California deed’s first page must be at least 2½ inches. All other margins must be at least one-half inch.5

English Language

Deeds and other instruments may be recorded in California only if the document is written in the English language. A non-English deed may be recorded if a verified translation certified by the county clerk is attached to the original deed.6


A California deed must have a document title at the top of the first page—directly under the top margin.7 The title typically indicates the type of deed—for example, Grant Deed or Quitclaim Deed.

Content Requirements for California Deeds

California content requirements govern the substantive provisions that must be included in each California deed form. California law prevents county recorders from rejecting legally insufficient deeds.8 Thus, a county recorder’s acceptance of a deed does not mean that the deed is legally valid. A California deed must meet the following content requirements to be a legally valid deed:

Current Owner and New Owner Names

A deed must identify by name the current owner transferring the property (the grantor) and the new owner receiving the property (the grantee). Any names to be indexed must be legibly printed in the deed.9 If a grantor’s name has changed since he or she took title, the deed must include the name listed in the deed that gave the grantor the property.10 Deeds typically use a/k/a (also known as) or f/k/a (formerly known as) to identify a person whose name has changed.

A California deed that transfers title to more than one new owner should state the form of co-ownership the new owners will use. California recognizes tenancy in common and joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Co-owners who are married spouses can also choose to own real estate as community property with right of survivorship.

Tax Address

A deed that transfers complete ownership of California real estate must list on the first page the name and address where future tax statements are to be mailed.11

Granting Clause

A deed’s granting clause is the language the describes the transfer of ownership from the current owner to the new owner.12 The granting clause usually indicates the warranty of title the deed provides (if any). California recognizes types of deeds that provide complete warranty of title (California warranty deed form), partial warranty of title (California grant deed form), or no warranty of title (California quitclaim deed form).


A statement of consideration identifies the payment or other value the new owner provides for the property. A statement of consideration is not necessary for a deed to make a valid transfer of California real estate.13

Property Description

A deed must have a valid legal description that adequately identifies the property. A property’s legal description can usually be found within the deed that transferred the property to the current owner. California law assumes that a deed transfers complete ownership of the property unless the deed specifies a lesser interest.14

Attorney Practice Note: If a property qualifies for an exclusion that avoids reassessment for tax purposes, the owner should file a tax reassessment exclusion claim with the county assessor. See our discussion of California property tax reassessment or contact the county assessor’s office for more information about exclusions from tax reassessment.

Assessor’s Identification Number

California law authorizes counties to require deeds to list the assessor’s identification number assigned to the real estate.15 Some counties use the term assessor’s parcel number.

Cross-Reference to Prior Deed

A deed that modifies, releases, or cancels a previously recorded deed or another instrument must include the prior document’s recorder identification number or book-and-page number.16

Return Address

A deed submitted for recording in California must list the name of the person requesting recording and the address where the document should be returned after recording. The name and return address are added on the left-hand side of the top margin of the deed’s first page.17

Documentary Transfer Tax Statement

California’s Documentary Transfer Tax Act requires a deed that qualifies for the tax to include a declaration about the tax’s calculation.18 A deed that is not subject to the tax should instead state the reason for the exemption.

The declaration in deeds subject to California transfer tax states:

  • The amount of transfer tax due;
  • Whether the consideration used to calculate the tax excludes (or does not exclude) the value of liens on the property at the time of sale; and
  • Whether the transferred land (or any part) is in an incorporated area or unincorporated area.19

The person responsible for the calculation must sign the declaration. The transferor typically signs the declaration when signing the deed.20

Signing Requirements for California Deeds

A California deed is invalid unless it is signed as required by law. California deeds must meet the following signature requirements.

Transferor’s Signature

The person(s) who is transferring the real estate must sign a California deed.21 If the transferor is an entity, an authorized representative signs the deed. For example, a corporate president or secretary may sign for a corporation.22 The name of any person who signs a deed must be written below or to the side of the signature.23

Power of Attorney (POA)

A person acting under power of attorney (an attorney-in-fact or agent) can sign a deed on behalf of the property owner. The agent should sign the property owner’s name and the agent’s own name in the POA capacity.24


Signatures within a California deed must be acknowledged before a notary.25 California has a statutory notary acknowledgment form that should be used for deeds.26

Fees Required to File California Deeds

Each California county has a county recorder who maintains the county land records and accepts deeds for recording.27 A deed must be filed with the county recorder of the county where the property is located.28

Recording Fees

The county recorder charges a recording fee when recording a deed.29 Fee amounts vary between deeds and counties. The base fee is $15.00 for a deed’s first page, plus $3.00 for each additional page.30 There are other fees that apply to some but not all deeds. For example, a deed that is not subject to documentary stamp tax and does not transfer property to an owner-occupier incurs extra fees of $75.00 per parcel (up to $225.00) and $2.00 for the first page.31

Attorney Practice Note: There is an extra $10.00 recording fee for deeds that are not subject to documentary transfer tax. To avoid the extra $10.00, a non-exempt deed should contain a declaration that the deed is subject to documentary stamp tax.32

California Documentary Transfer Tax

California law authorizes counties to charge a transfer tax—called documentary transfer tax—on deeds that transfer real estate (or an interest in real estate) for consideration over $100.00.33 Cities may also impose a city-level transfer tax.34 The seller typically pays the transfer tax, but the parties can agree otherwise.

California Transfer Tax Rates

There are effectively two California Documentary Transfer Taxes—county transfer tax and city transfer tax. The county transfer tax rate is $0.55 per $500.00 (or fractional part) of consideration.35 California law lets cities add a city transfer tax on deeds that transfer property within municipal limits. The city transfer tax rate can be up to one-half of the county rate.36 If a deed requires payment of city transfer tax, the county must allow credit toward the county tax equal to the amount of city tax paid.37

Attorney Practice Note: California law distinguishes general law cities (which are primarily governed by state law) and charter cities (which are primarily governed by the city’s own charter). Charter cities have authority to establish their own transfer taxes, and their rates are often substantially higher than the city rate set by state law. Berkeley, for example, charges a transfer tax of $15.00 per $1,000.00 of consideration.

Documentary Transfer Tax Exemptions

Certain California deeds do not require payment of documentary transfer tax. Notable exemption categories include:

  • Deeds that transfer property as a gift or for less than $100.00 of consideration;38
  • Deeds that merely reflect a change in name, form, or place of organization;39
  • Deeds to or from government agencies;40
  • Deeds issued in a foreclosure or in lieu of foreclosure;41 and
  • Deeds that implement a plan of reorganization in bankruptcy or an equity receivership proceeding.42

Additional Forms Required with California Deeds

A deed that changes the ownership of California real estate must be accompanied by a signed change in ownership statement.43 The new owner signs the statement and lists the information needed for tax assessment. If a property is within a deceased owner’s estate or transfers through a living trust, the personal representative or trustee is responsible for filing the change in ownership statement.44

California does not require a transfer tax return or equivalent document with deeds.

Title Insurance Notice

California law requires a notice about title insurance if a transfer involves an escrow transaction and if the buyer will not be covered by title insurance. The buyer receives the notice and must sign and acknowledge it upon receipt.45 The notice must be in the following form:


Each deed created by our deed preparation service is attorney-designed to meet California recording requirements and comes with step-by-step instructions for filing with the Recorder.

  1. Cal. Gov. Code § 27361.5.
  2. Cal. Gov. Code § 27361.6.
  3. Cal. Gov. Code § 27361.6.
  4. Cal. Gov. Code § 27361(a)(1).
  5. Cal. Gov. Code § 27361.6.
  6. Cal. Gov. Code § 27293.
  7. Cal. Gov. Code § 27324.
  8. Cal. Gov. Code § 27201(a).
  9. Cal. Gov. Code § 27280.5.
  10. Cal. Civ. Code § 1096.
  11. Cal. Gov. Code § 27321.5(a).
  12. See, e.g., Cal. Civ. Code § 1092.
  13. Cal. Civ. Code § 1040.
  14. Cal. Civ. Code § 1084.
  15. Cal. Gov. Code § 27297.7; Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11911.1.
  16. Cal. Gov. Code § 27361.6.
  17. Cal. Gov. Code §27361.6.
  18. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11933.
  19. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code §§ 11932; 11933.
  20. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11932.
  21. Cal. Civ. Code § 1091.
  22. Cal. Gov. Code § 27287.
  23. Cal. Gov. Code § 27280.5.
  24. Cal. Civ. Code § 1095.
  25. Cal. Gov. Code § 27287.
  26. Cal. Civ. Code § 1189.
  27. Cal. Gov. Code § 27201.
  28. Cal. Civ. Code § 1169.
  29. Cal. Gov. Code § 27360.
  30. See Cal. Govt. Code § 27361.
  31. Cal. Gov. Code §§ 27388.1; 27388.2.
  32. Cal. Gov. Code § 27388.
  33. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11911(a).
  34. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11911(b).
  35. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11911(a).
  36. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11911(b).
  37. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11931.
  38. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code §§ 11911; 11930.
  39. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11923(a).
  40. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11922.
  41. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11928.
  42. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 11923(a).
  43. Cal. Gov. Code § 27280; Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 480(a).
  44. Cal. Rev. & Tax Code § 480(b).
  45. Cal. Civ. Code § 1057.6.