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Understanding Real Estate Title Options in California: Navigating The Options

Posted by James Burns | May 03, 2024 | 0 Comments

When purchasing or inheriting property in California, the chosen form of title can significantly impact your ownership rights and responsibilities. According to a report by the California Association of Realtors, joint tenancy and tenancy in common are among the most common forms of co-ownership, but they come with distinctly different legal implications and can often be quite puzzling for property owners.

Tenancy in Common

Overview: Tenancy in common allows two or more individuals to hold title to real estate jointly, with each tenant owning a specified share that can be unequal. This form of ownership is particularly popular among investors or friends buying property together.

Actionable Tip: Always specify the ownership percentage in writing when establishing tenancy in common to avoid disputes during a sale or inheritance proceedings.

Mistake to Avoid: Do not assume that your share will automatically transfer to the surviving tenants upon your death. Unlike joint tenancy, tenancy in common does not include the right of survivorship.

Example: John and Sarah, who are not married, buy a house together. John invests 70% of the purchase price, and Sarah contributes 30%. They choose tenancy in common to reflect their investment proportionately.

Relevant Law: Under California Civil Code Section 683, tenancy in common does not inherently provide survivorship rights, meaning each owner's share is distributed according to their will or the state's succession laws upon death.

Joint Tenancy

Overview: Joint tenancy is an attractive option for couples or close family members due to its right of survivorship, which means that upon the death of one tenant, the deceased's share automatically transfers to the surviving joint tenant(s).

Actionable Tip: Ensure all joint tenants acquire their interest at the same time and through the same deed to maintain the necessary unity of ownership.

Mistake to Avoid: Avoid altering the ownership structure without consulting all joint tenants. Selling or transferring a share without consensus can sever the joint tenancy, converting it into a tenancy in common.

Example: Emily and Laura are sisters who inherit their family home as joint tenants. When Laura passes away, Emily automatically becomes the sole owner of the home, bypassing the probate process.

Relevant Law: As per California Civil Code Section 683.2, joint tenancy includes the right of survivorship and requires four unities: time, title, interest, and possession.

Transitioning to a Living Trust

Overview: Placing property into a living trust can offer strategic advantages, especially for managing and passing on your property efficiently.

Actionable Tip: Use a living trust to bypass the lengthy and public probate process, ensuring a smoother transition of property to your beneficiaries.

Mistake to Avoid: Do not forget to transfer the title of your property into the trust after its creation. Failing to do so means the property might still go through probate.

Example: Mark owns a property as a tenant in common with his business partner. He places his share into a living trust, thus ensuring that his family can inherit without entanglement in probate proceedings should something happen to him.

Relevant Law: According to the California Probate Code, a properly funded living trust can manage and distribute assets without court supervision, avoiding probate.

Understanding the Implications of Community Property

Overview: In California, property acquired during marriage is usually considered community property. This status can affect how property is managed and passed on upon the death of a spouse, especially when combined with tenancy in common or joint tenancy.

Actionable Tip: Consider drafting a clear agreement that specifies how property should be handled if acquired as community property but titled differently, such as in tenancy in common or joint tenancy. This can help in clearly defining intentions and managing potential conflicts.

Mistake to Avoid: Don't overlook the potential for converting separate property to community property through commingling funds or failing to maintain clear separation of assets. This could complicate estate proceedings and tax implications.

Example: Tom and Linda, married for 10 years, purchase an investment property. Tom uses funds from an inheritance (which is separate property) for the down payment, intending the property to remain separate. However, they title the property as tenants in common without specifying that Tom's contribution remains separate, leading to potential disputes or unintended distribution if not addressed in estate planning.

Relevant Law: California Family Code defines how property is categorized as separate or community. Accurate documentation and legal strategies, such as a postnuptial agreement, can safeguard an individual's interests in such scenarios.


Understanding the different ways to hold title to property in California—whether as tenants in common, joint tenants, or through a living trust—offers strategic advantages and can safeguard against future legal complications. Accurate knowledge of each type's implications, especially in the context of estate planning and property management, is crucial.

For specialized advice and to ensure that your property and estate plans align with your personal and financial goals, consider reaching out to the Law Office of James Burns. With extensive experience and a thorough understanding of California real estate and estate law, James Burns can help you navigate the complexities of property ownership, ensuring your assets are protected and your legacy is passed on according to your wishes. Don't leave your estate planning to chance. Visit or call (949) 305-8642 today to secure your consultation and take the first step towards comprehensive asset management and protection.

About the Author

James Burns

Estate Planning, Asset Protection, Business and Real Estate Transactions, nutraceutical Law and franchising:


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