In the state of California, individuals are allowed to hold title to real property, either through sole ownership or co-ownership. With co-ownership, the title is held by two or more individuals.
In each type of ownership, there are several ways for individuals to hold title. Here are some of the most common examples:
- Single person – Anyone who is not legally married.
- Unmarried individual – Any person who has been married, but is now legally divorced.
- Married individual, sole and separate property – If a married individual seeks to acquire a title solely under his or her name, the spouse must give their consent through quitclaim deed or otherwise, in order to transfer which relinquishes all right, title, and interest in the property.
- Community property – Under the California Civil Code, community property is defined as property acquired by a married couple, or by either spouse. Unless stated otherwise, real property conveyed to a married individual is considered community property. Both husband and wife possess the right to dispose half of the community property. Once a spouse exercises his/her right to dispose of half the property, that half is subject to the estate’s administration. Should they not exercise that same right to dispose of one half to anyone other than his/her spouse, the half will be obtained by the surviving spouse without administration.
- Joint tenancy – The Civil Code defines a joint tenancy estate as “a joint interest owned by two or more persons in equal shares by a title created by a single will or transfer, when expressly declared in the will or transfer to be a joint tenancy.”
- Tenancy in common – Co-owners under tenancy in common have undivided interests similar to joint tenancy. The difference however is that these interests are not required to be equal in terms of quantity or duration, and may occur during different times. Under tenancy in common, there is no right of survivorship – every tenant has an interest that is vested on their heirs or devises upon death.
- Trust – Titles to properties in California can be held in a title holding trust. Both legal and equitable title to the real estate is held in a trust. A trustee holds title for a trustor or beneficiary, who retains rights to management and responsibilities.
- Community property with right of survivorship – Created by the California legislature in 2001, community property with right of survivorship combines the security of joint tenant ownership with tax benefits from the community property system in California. Under this system, any asset purchased with marital earnings (which includes real estate) is owned equally by both spouses. One-half interest is owned by each spouse, and both are free to dispose of this half interest should they choose to do so. This form of ownership protects a surviving spouse by preventing the ability to pass the community property asset to someone else by will. In addition, it also allows the surviving spouse to get the tax benefit of a “double step-up,” which is an increased value of the half-interest, matching the property’s value at the time of death.