Should you put your home into joint tenancy?


Dear Len & Rosie,

I am looking for a form to create a joint tenancy. I wish to transfer my home to joint tenancy between me and my mother. I want to avoid probate if I should pass away.  I am 34, and my mother is in her 60’s.


Dear Josh,

There are a number of places where you can find blank deed forms to put your home into joint tenancy with your mother. Many office supply and stationary stores have such forms. You can also find deed forms on the internet. If you find a form, make sure that the form you buy or download is specific to California. Each state has its own requirements concerning the preparation and recording of deeds, and a form specific to, say, Maryland, full of hoary language such as “whereas and wherefor” and “the party of the second part,” isn’t going to do you much good.

But finding a good form is only part of the struggle. You have to fill out a Preliminary Change of Ownership Report and submit it to the County Recorder with your deed so that the County Assessor can confirm that the transfer will not result in a property tax reassessment under Proposition 13 (It won’t, but they need the form anyway). And every county has its own rules and procedures related to Documentary Transfer Tax.

What it all comes down to is that you’re better off not doing this yourself, but if you’re willing to invest in the learning process, you can figure it out.

But do you really want to do this at all? We think it’s a bad idea. It’s one thing if your mother is buying the home with you. Then it’s only fair that her interests be protected by her being on title. But if you put the home into joint tenancy and change your mind later, your mother may refuse to sign the property back over to you. Or she could even be incapacitated and incapable of doing so. Or she may give her half of the home to someone else.

There are two better alternatives. You could create a revocable trust that leaves the home to your mother or to someone else you specify if she passes away before you, which is fairly likely. A less expensive alternative would be for you to prepare and record a Revocable Transfer on Deed (TOD) Deed.  Forms for this are available on line, or you could even look up California Probate Code section 5642 and type it up yourself.  The advantage of a TOD deed is that your mother wouldn’t own an interest in your home until your death, and you can borrow against the home, sell it, or leave it to someone else without your mother’s signature or consent.

Len & Rosie