Did you know that the Law Library offers free online forms for many common situations?
Litigation forms for common situations are found at https://courts.ca.gov. But for other common situations, such as real estate transfers, there are no pre-printed forms. We have created simple generic versions of many forms, many with instructions.
Some of our most popular forms help people transfer real estate after an owner passes away.
It’s crucial to understand the effects of these forms before using them; they may have unexpected effects in some cases. If you have any questions about whether these forms fit your situation, or the instructions don’t answer all your questions, you should consult an attorney or come in to the Law Library to do your own research.
Transferring Property after a Death
Personal property: When someone passes away without a lot of assets, probate is usually not necessary. An Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property (also called Small Estate Affidavit) is used after someone dies to transfer personal property like money, items, and accounts if their estate is worth less than $150,000. We also have a Step-by-Step guide on using the small estate affidavit (affidavit for collection of personal property) on our site.
Real estate: the method of transfer for real estate depends on how exactly the property is held at death. The wording on the deed is crucial here. If it is held “as joint tenancy” or “as community property with right of survivorship,” if the owner named beneficiaries under a “Transfer on Death Deed,” or if the property is in a trust, it may be transferred using a notarized affidavit of death of joint tenant or affidavit of surviving spouse. This may be followed up by a grant deed to ensure that the new owner(s) show clearly in the chain of title. If it is held by the deceased person only, or if the owners hold it as “tenants in common” or “community property without survivorship,” you may need to go to court.
An Affidavit of Death of Joint Tenant (California) is used to clear title to real estate held in joint tenancy after one joint tenant dies. The remaining joint tenant (or joint tenants) records the affidavit along with a certified death certificate, indicating that they are now the sole (or remaining) owner(s). More information and a sample form in our Affidavit of Death of Joint Tenant (California) Instructions.
A spouse or registered domestic partner can use an Affidavit of Surviving Spouse/Domestic Partner (California) to clear title to real estate held as “community property with right of survivorship” after their spouse dies. For more info on completing and recording the affidavit, see our Affidavit of Surviving Spouse/Domestic Partner (California) (Instructions). In some cases, there may be tax or other benefits to doing it via probate court; consult an attorney if you have questions.
A Transfer on Death (TOD) Deed, also called a beneficiary deed, is an alternative to a trust, in which the owner names beneficiaries to inherit the property when they die.
The Transfer on Death (TOD) Deed (California) form is available on our website, along with Transfer on Death (TOD) Deed (Instructions), and a form to revoke the TOD deed if you change your mind — Transfer on Death Deed: Revocation (California) (with instructions at Transfer on Death Deed: Revocation (California) (Instructions).) For more information on using the TOD deed in California, see our guide at Transfer on Death (TOD) Deed: Naming Beneficiaries and Revoking TOD Deeds.
After the transferor under a TOD deed dies, the beneficiaries record an Affidavit of Death: Transfer on Death Deed (California) and a certified death certificate to clear the title to the real estate. Here’s a sample and instructions to do that: Affidavit of Death: Transfer on Death Deed (California) (Instructions) A recent change to the law means that if the TOD deed was signed after January 1, 2022, you need a different form, and will need to provide notice to any heirs. You can find information and forms in our guide Transferring Title to Beneficiaries after a Transfer on Death Deed Takes Effect.
Real estate in a trust also passes to heirs without probate. While in the trust, it is technically owned by the trustee. If the trustee passes away, use Affidavit of Death of Trustee (California) plus a certified death certificate to update the trustee. You can get more information and a sample form in our Affidavit of Death of Trustee (California) (Instructions). The new trustee can then carry out the instructions in the trust, such as distributing the property to the named beneficiaries.
Mortgages (Deeds of Trust)
A mortgage is when you borrow money and use your real estate as security. If you don’t pay the debt, the lender can foreclose – take your real estate to pay the debt.
In California we usually use a variation on this: a Promissory Note to agree to the loan and a Deed of Trust (California) to put a lien on the property. Banks and other lenders use these; private loans, such as loans between family members or business investors, can use them too. This Step by Step guide to creating a Deed of Trust and Promissory Note will show you how.
When a mortgage (deed of trust) is paid off, the trustee records a Deed of Full Reconveyance (California) to clear title in the name of the owners. Deed of Full Reconveyance (California) (Instructions) show you how. In some cases, the transaction includes substitution of the trustee; Substitution of Trustee and Full Reconveyance (California) is used for that, and Substitution of Trustee and Full Reconveyance (California) (Instructions) cover that situation.
A Grant Deed (California) is used to transfer real estate to a new owner, add new owners, or put real estate into a trust. All of these are technically “changes of ownership” under California law. By signing a grant deed, the seller (or giver) is promising that they are transferring the property free and clear of any undisclosed liens or claims. A sample and instructions can be found in our Grant Deed (California) (Instructions), and a lot more information in our Step by Step guide on Completing and Recording Deeds.
A Quitclaim Deed (California) — sometimes misspelled “Quick Claim Deed” — is used to give up claims (or potential claims) to real estate. This is often used in divorces or probate cases when someone who might otherwise have a claim on real estate waives it. For instance, a spouse may sign a quitclaim deed to renounce potential community property claims, or a possible heir may use one to waive potential rights to contest disposition of real estate after a death. The person signing is not guaranteeing anything about the actual ownership — just saying that if they have an ownership interest, they are giving it up. Quitclaim Deed (California) (Instructions) includes a sample and instructions, and our Step by Step guide on Completing and Recording Deeds has more information.
Interspousal Transfer Deed (California), also called Interspousal Grant Deed, is really just a specialized grant deed set up for spouses. It can be used to change property from community to separate property or vice versa. This is commonly used as part of a divorce, to make formerly community property into the separate property of one ex-spouse. It can also be used if a spouse wants to give up his or her share of a community asset to their spouse, or wants to add a new spouse to a property they owned before marriage. These types of transfers get special tax treatment, and the Interspousal Transfer Deed includes the language to claim those advantages. You can also get a sample and instructions using our Interspousal Transfer Deed (Instructions) and more information using our Step by Step guide on Completing and Recording Deeds.
California homeowners have a right to a “homestead exclusion” keeping a certain amount of equity from being seized by creditors. While this does not prevent a foreclosure, in many cases it means that it is not financially beneficial for creditors to foreclose. Recording a written declaration of homestead provides more protection than the automatic homestead which all homeowners get. You can record the declaration using Homestead Declaration (California) for single owners and Homestead Declaration: Spouses (California) for property owned by a married couple or registered domestic partners. Homestead Declaration (California) (Instructions) and Homestead Declaration – Spouses as Declared Owners (California) (Instructions) can help.
A person or people who have declared a homestead may decide to abandon that homestead. This happens automatically if you move, but if you need to put the abandonment on record, you can use an Abandonment of Declared Homestead (California); a sample with instructions can be found here: Abandonment of Declared Homestead California (Instructions). For more information on homestead declarations in California, see our step-by-step guide Homestead Declaration: Protecting the Equity in Your Home.
Contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, and the like have a special tool to use to ensure payment: the Mechanics Lien Claim (California Civ. Code § 8416). Recording a mechanics lien clouds the owner’s title, so that it must be paid prior to selling or refinancing the property. However, this tool has a short life: 90 days after it is recorded it expires unless the contractor files a lawsuit. It also has a prerequisite: a subcontractor, supplier, etc. who plans to use one must provide a Preliminary Notice – Private Works (California), also called a prelien, warning the owner that they may file such a lien. (This requirement does not apply to contractors with a direct relationship with the owner.) When the contractor is satisfactorily paid, they must record a
Release of Mechanic’s Lien (California) to remove the lien from the property. For more information, see our step-by-step guide Mechanics Liens: Placing and Releasing Contractors’ Claims.
A related tool is the Stop Payment Notice – Private Works (California), which requires the construction lender for a project to set aside sufficient funds to pay the contractor who files the notice. The Release of Stop Payment Notice (California) is used to remove such a notice.
The completion of a project cuts off the time for contractors to file mechanics liens. But it can be hard to determine exactly when the project ends. An owner can establish a specific end date by recording a Notice of Completion (California) to start the time running for the various end-of-project deadlines.
Pleading paper and litigation forms
A Declaration of Venue (California) (Civil Code § 2984.4) is required in lawsuits based on contracts.
We have the form and Declaration of Venue (Instructions) to help self-represented litigants meet this requirement.
Most bankruptcy forms are standardized and can be downloaded from federal court websites such as https://www.uscourts.gov/forms/bankruptcy-forms. However there are a few situations where you must type up your own pleadings. After a bankruptcy case has been closed, the debtor may need to reopen it, frequently because they have acquired proof of completing pre-bankruptcy counseling (Official Form 23). Bankruptcy Application to Reopen Case can be used to reopen such a case, and Bankruptcy Application for Discharge can be used to request the discharge once it’s open.
Powers of attorney
A power of attorney is a notarized document naming someone as your agent, to act on your behalf.
Financial: It can be for a single transaction, such as making a purchase while you are out of the country, or for all financial matters, or anything in between. You or your attorney can craft one to fit your unique situation, but for simple cases, the standard Uniform Statutory Power of Attorney (California) may be a good option. It can be used to create a “durable” POA, meaning that it continues in effect after you lose the capacity to make decisions yourself, or a temporary one for a specific purpose.
As long as you have the capacity to make decisions, you can always revoke your power of attorney. The form Revocation of Power of Attorney (California) is used to revoke a power of attorney which is no longer needed. If the power of attorney was recorded (for use managing real estate), a recordable Revocation of Power of Attorney – Recorded Document (California) can be used. These will also need to be notarized to be effective.
Health care and end of life decisions: An Advance Health Care Directive, which combines the so-called “living will” with a power of attorney for health care, is used to designate someone to make health care decisions when you can’t, name preferred doctors and treatments, and to describe the types of end-of-life health care you prefer. The Advance Health Care Directive form (California) is based on California statutes and meets the requirements for such a document. You can find other versions, or craft your own.
For more information, see our research guide on Power of Attorney.
VC 41500 (Dismiss Ticket if Incarcerated) (California) can be used by a person who is currently incarcerated to dismiss a pending traffic ticket.