California’s Transfer on Death Deed: What You Need to Know (2024)

Updated: January 22, 2021

What’s going to happen if the Transfer on Death Deed Law expires?

The California law that first went into effect on January 1, 2016 that offered an alternative to keep their homes out of probate is now set to expire on January 1, 2022. This deadline has been extended through the Senate Bill 1305.

If the law expires, will your Transfer on Death deed still work?

Yes, your Transfer on Death deed will remain valid as long as it is executed before January 1, 2022.

However, with the uncertainty of the status of this law, there is no guarantee that future changes to the TOD deed law may not affect you.

How will Prop 19 affect me if I choose to file a Transfer on Death Deed?

Prop 19 will start taking into effect on February 16, 2021. This new California law will require that your child(ren) will need to meet the following requirements in order to qualify for the parent-child exclusion to avoid reassessment.

The requirements are:

  • Property transferred must be less than 1 million dollars in value.

  • Your child(ren) must claim the property as his or her primary residence.

If the Transfer on Death deed takes into effect upon your passing, your child(ren) will need to meet the above requirements in order to qualify for the parent-child exclusion for reassessment.

What You Need to Know about California’s Revocable Transfer on Death Deed

On January 1, 2016, Assembly Bill 139 (A.B. 139) went into effect in California, allowing Californians a new alternative to keep their homes out of probate. The revocable transfer on death deed, colloquially referred to as “poor man’s trusts,” is an inexpensive and quick way of effecting a transfer of real property to a named beneficiary (or beneficiaries) upon the death of the real property owner.

Up until January 2016, the most commonly used ways to transfer real property upon death was through 3 methods:

1. Ownership of property in joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship.

2.A living trust.

3.A will.

The transfer on death deed is considered a nonprobate method for transferring property to a named beneficiary. There are several conditions governing the type of property that can be transferred through this deed:

1. A single-family home or condominium unit, or

2. A single-family residence on agricultural property of 40 acres or less, or

3. A residence with no more than four residential dwelling units.

Pros & Cons of a Transfer on Death Deed

As with any method of estate planning, there are advantages or disadvantages that differ based on each person’s situation. Price, convenience, and security all affect the decision process for creating an estate plan, as well as the amount of assets that someone may want to protect or pass on.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle article, this deed is most useful for single people, as opposed to married couples or multiple owners who can avoid probate by simply owning their home under joint tenancy. If a joint tenant of a property passes away, his or her share will automatically go to the remaining joint tenants equally.

Another way for married couples to avoid probate is by owning the home under community property with right of survivorship. “Right of survivorship” means that the surviving owner of the property automatically absorbs the share of the deceased owner.


1. Filing and recording the transfer on death deed is fast, simple, and very inexpensive (especially compared to the living trust and last will options).

2. Protects your property from probate court as long as the beneficiary does not predecease you.

3. Fully revocable during the real property owner’s life time. See section on revoking transfer on death deed.

4. You are still the full owner of your property, instead of adding your beneficiary as a joint tenant and making him/her an immediate legal owner.

5.No taxes to worry about. Adding a joint tenant is considered a gift by the IRS and thus requires the filing of a gift tax return, not to mention possible higher taxes in the future.

6. In terms of protecting real property, it is a good solution to avoid probate if the real property owner does not have the time or ability to create a living trust.


1. Your property will be subject to probate court if your beneficiary predeceases you and you do not have an alternate estate plan.

2. If you co-own property under joint tenancy, your joint tenant becomes the sole owner upon your death and has full control of the property despite your deed, unless your co-tenant has also filed the deed separately naming the same beneficiary or beneficiaries.

3. If the beneficiary is a minor upon the death of the property owner, a court-appointed custodian will be granted control and management of the property until the child reaches legal age, and only then will the child own the property outright. This process may incur legal and court fees.

4. The property may still be subject to Medi-Cal estate recovery if the property owner was a recipient of Medi-Cal benefits. Let’s say you forgot to update the Transfer on Death Deed when the person you wanted to gift the property to dies before you. Then the property would have to be probated and would be subject to Medi-Cal reimbursem*nt claims.

5. If you become incapacitated and you didn’t have a living trust or power of attorney, then your loved ones would need to obtain conservatorship to manage or sell your property.

How Do I Prepare the Transfer on Death Deed?

Fortunately, the process of filing and recording the transfer on death deed to leave real estate for a beneficiary is quite simple. The copy of the deed you prepare must meet state requirements and contain the correct language and formatting. This simple, one-page document can be found for free at your county clerk’s office or website. Los Angeles County offers the form for free here. These are the simple steps to making sure your transfer on death deed is prepared correctly:

1.Fill out all general required information about your identity and address.

Make sure the “Assessor’s Parcel Number” and “Property Description” directly matches the description from your property’s current deed, or your deed may be invalid if it isn’t titled correctly.

2.Name your beneficiary or beneficiaries.

Be specific and do not use categories such as “my children” or “my brother.” The state will likely not recognize these types of titles even if your identity is clear. It is safest to list the full legal name of each beneficiary you wish to name.

a. If you name more than one beneficiary, be sure to indicate how they will take title to your property upon your death. Will they be titled “as joint tenants” who will own the property in equal shares?

3.Sign and date the transfer on death deed before a notary public.

If you’re not the sole owner of your property, then the transfer on death deed is useless if you predecease your co-tenant, who will own the property outright. Your co-tenant (such as a spouse or sibling) would have to file a separate transfer on death deed naming the same beneficiaries in order to ensure the transfer of property in the event of both property owners’ deaths.

4.Have the notarized deed recorded with your county clerk’s office.

Remember that the law requires you to record the deed within 60 days of notarization, otherwise it will be null. This can be done by mailing or bringing your deed to your local recorder/county clerk's office. Be prepared to any filing and recording fees.

How Do I Revoke a Transfer on Death Deed?

The transfer on death deed is fully revocable before the death of the real property owner. There are 3 effective ways to revoke this deed:

1.File and record a Revocation of Revocable Transfer on Death Deed form.

2.Record a new transfer on death deed naming a different beneficiary. The newest recorded deed will automatically revoke any and all previous deeds of the same type.

3. Sell or transfer the real property to someone else prior to the real property owner’s death.

Potential Risks and Uncertainties of the Transfer on Death Deed

Since the transfer on death deed was only recently introduced as a legal way to transfer property upon a property owner’s death, there are several legal implications that have not been fully studied and understood yet.

There are possible unforeseen or unintended consequences of having the transfer on death deed as a new option for real property transfer:

1.Opponents of the transfer on death deed have cited concerns relating to issues of undue influence, fraud, or incompetence when it comes to preparing these deeds. For example, scammers or predators may persuade or pressure an elderly person to prepare this type of deed to transfer a home to them upon death. Elder abuse and other types of undue influence or fraud are a main concern. The current safeguard for this is a law that prohibits a beneficiary from selling a home within 120 days of the grantor’s death.

2.Claims of undue influence, fraud, or incompetence may invite litigation by family members and friends upon the death of a property owner who prepared a transfer on death deed.

3.Any mortgage or debt that is attached to the property is transferred along with the property to the beneficiary upon the property owner’s death.

4.Any liens placed upon a property by the homeowner’s creditors are transferred to the beneficiary upon the homeowner’s death.

What if I’m a Co-Owner of a Property?

There are several ways to own a property jointly, with one or more people such as a spouse, family member, or friends. There is joint tenancy with right of survivorship, community property (with or without right of survivorship), or tenancy in common. Joint tenancy is the main form of co-ownership that may affect the use of a transfer on death deed.

If you co-own a property under joint tenancy, things can get tricky if you want to leave property to a beneficiary with a transfer on death deed. Legally, your joint tenant(s) has the right of survivorship and would inherit your share of the property upon your death. This means that even if you had a transfer on death deed prepared, it becomes useless since your joint tenant now owns the property in full. There are only two ways to avoid your transfer on death deed from becoming null:

1.You outlive the other joint tenant(s).

2.Your joint tenant(s) shares your interests and prepares a separate transfer on death deed naming the same beneficiary. However, since this deed is fully revocable, your joint tenant may choose to revoke the deed upon your death, making your joint tenant the sole owner of the property.

The Transfer on Death Deed in a Nutshell

The transfer on death deed, like any other method of estate planning, has its benefits and drawbacks. These pros and cons all depend on the status of your finances, the amount of assets you possess, the urgency of your situation, and much more. Any type of estate planning is a step in the right direction if you have your loved ones’ futures in mind. However, it is always safest to consult with a trusted estate planning attorney if you are ever unsure about your options.

Explore Your Best Estate Planning Options

There are many ways to create an estate plan and make sure your family is prepared for a future without you. Now that you’ve heard about this new method to transfer your home to a loved one, do you know if this is the best method for you?

As with any major life decision, you should consult with a professional who can advise you on your best options. Amity Law Group's estate planning attorneys are ready to help.

Call (626) 307-2800 to schedule your free consultation.

California’s Transfer on Death Deed: What You Need to Know (2024)


California’s Transfer on Death Deed: What You Need to Know? ›

A California TOD deed must be recorded with the county recorder for the county where the property is located. Recording must occur within 60 days after the TOD deed is notarized. An unrecorded TOD deed is ineffective—which typically results in the property going through probate.

What is the disadvantage of a Tod deed? ›

Disadvantages of a Transfer on Death Deed

For example, your property will be subject to probate court if your beneficiary predeceases you and you lack an alternate estate plan. Another disadvantage is if you co-own property under a joint tenancy.

Does a Transfer on death deed avoid probate in California? ›

In California, this instrument is known as a "transfer on death" deed (the "TOD") and its function is to name a real property owner's beneficiaries entitled to receive the real estate upon the passing of the owner without the need of a trust, probate, or other type of joint tenancy deed.

Does California recognize Transfer on death? ›

In 2016, the laws in California were updated to allow people with a home, condo, farm of 40 acres or less, or a multi-unit building with no more than four units to be designated on a property deed known as a Transfer-on-Death deed which the beneficiary of the property would be at the owner's death.

How do you Transfer property after death in California? ›

California offers a type of deed known as a revocable transfer-on-death deed, which allows a title holder to list beneficiaries to whom the property should automatically transfer upon their death. If a valid transfer-on-death deed exists, it is unlikely the property in question would have to be probated.

Does a TOD avoid capital gains tax? ›

Moreover, TOD Deeds are revocable, which means you can amend or revoke them at any time. However, one thing it doesn't do is avoid taxes.

Is TOD a good idea? ›

The most important benefit of a TOD account is simplicity. Estate planning can help minimize the legal mess left after you die. Without it, the probate system can take over the distribution of your assets.

How do I avoid probate on a house in California? ›

In California, you can make a living trust to avoid probate for virtually any asset you own—real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and so on. You need to create a trust document (it's similar to a will), naming someone to take over as trustee after your death (called a successor trustee).

How do you avoid probate after death in California? ›

The following are five tips on how to avoid probate in California:
  1. Create a Living Trust. ...
  2. Consider How You Title Your Property. ...
  3. Use Payable-on-Death Designations. ...
  4. Use a Transfer-on-Death Deed. ...
  5. Take Advantage of California's Small Estate Probate Procedures.
Dec 6, 2021

Do you have to remove a deceased spouse from a deed in California? ›

First things first, you are likely wondering whether removing a deceased loved one from your house deed is required. In most cases, spousal removal from your deed will not be necessary. This applies when you already hold a type of house deed that enables the automatic transfer of property upon the death of a spouse.

Who inherits property after death in California? ›

Asset distribution according to California's intestate law:
Deceased's survivor(s):Who Inherits:
Children but no spouseChildren inherits everything
Spouse with no children, or no immediate next of kin (parents, siblings, nieces, cousins)Spouse inherits everything
5 more rows
Mar 22, 2023

Do you have to disclose death on property in California? ›

In California, for example, any death on a property (peaceful or otherwise) needs to be disclosed if it occurred within the last three years. The seller must also disclose any known death in the home if the buyer asks.

How much does an estate have to be worth to go to probate in California? ›

In California, probate settles a deceased person's estate and is required in California if the estate is worth more than $184,500. It typically occurs when the deceased person died without a will, but it can occur even if the deceased person did have a will if they owned real property that is subject to probate.

What is the Tod law in California? ›

A TOD deed is intended to be an inexpensive way to plan who inherits your home after you die. It can only be used to transfer a property with one to four residential dwelling or condominium units, or a single-family residence with less than 40 acres of agricultural land.

What happens to property taxes when owner dies California? ›

Option 1: Wait until they inherit the property

If you make no changes, your children will inherit the home after you both pass away. The income tax basis of the home will be stepped up to the current market value at each of your deaths. You children might be subject to higher property taxes if they keep the home.

What happens to a house when the owner dies in California? ›

If the deceased did not leave a will, the home would go to the closest family member under California's intestacy law. Typically, the surviving spouse will take the entire estate. If the deceased was unmarried, their children would receive the property in equal shares.

Is a trust better than TOD? ›

The way it differs from a TOD deed is that a living trust can be used for any type of asset, not just real estate. So if you have stocks, savings accounts, valuable belongings, or other assets that you want to transfer to someone after your death, a living trust is a way to do it.

Why is a trust better than a TOD? ›

Trusts Hold More Than Just Real Estate, and They Name Trustees to Manage the Property. Living trusts are more flexible and powerful than transfer on death deeds. As mentioned, they can hold property besides real estate. Additionally, trust documents name people to act as "trustees"—people who manage the trust property.

Can the owner take money out of a TOD account? ›

During your lifetime, you retain full ownership and control of assets in a TOD account. You can manage the investments as you see fit, make additions or withdrawals, and move or close the account if you wish.

Do TOD accounts have beneficiaries? ›

A TOD account can have multiple beneficiaries, as long as the account owner establishes how the assets will be divided," said Damaryan. “But even if the account has equal distribution of assets, you could still have conflicts over who is in charge of the money because there is no one designated to handle it."

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