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Transfer of Real Estate in California after Death

Legally, beneficiaries acquire title to a decedent’s real estate on the date of death. There are, however, specific steps to be taken to make the process official. The process is relevant whether the succession is intestate or determined in a will, or the transfer goes through the formal California probate or passes to beneficiaries out of probate.

How do you transfer real estate after death?

The first thing you need to do is show how the decedent held title to the real property: a deed, affidavit, or court order. You also need to prepare the documents evidencing to whom the property is left. These documents must be recorded with the office of the county recorder where the real property is located.

  • To a surviving spouse or domestic partner: If the decedent’s deed shows that the title is held as “community property” – with or without right of survivorship – with the surviving spouse or partner, you may clear title in the beneficiary‘s name with a simple affidavit. If the property was not held as community property and goes outright to the surviving spouse or domestic partner, then you will need a Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Order.
  • To a surviving joint tenant: If title to the property was held in joint tenancy, you can remove the decedent’s name from the title using an Affidavit – Death of Joint Tenant. For tax reasons, it may be necessary to use the Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Order, instead.
  • To living trust beneficiaries: If the property was held in a living trust, a new deed must be prepared by the successor trustee, which will transfer the title to the beneficiaries.
  • Through probate: Should the decedent’s property go to heirs (if there is no will) or beneficiaries named in the will (other than a surviving spouse or domestic partner), the process will be handled through the Order of Final Distribution released by the probate court. For real property worth less than $100,000, shorter methods can be used.

Talk to probate attorney Scott Grossman about your situation and any questions you might have regarding probate and estates in California. Call us at (951) 683-3704 for your FREE 30-minute telephone consultation, or complete a confidential contact form.

Scott Grossman

Scott Grossman


The Grossman Law Firm, APC · 525 B Street, Suite 1500, San Diego, CA 92101 · (951) 523-8307

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