Frequently Asked Questions


What is the "form of title"?

The "form of title" is the way the deed is made out to name the buyer(s) or "grantee(s)" of the property. For example, the deed to a married couple might be made out to: Richard F. Lee and Maria E. Lee, husband and wife, as community property with right of survivorship. The deed to a business might be made out to: Acme Software, a California limited liability company. The words in italics are the "form of title" to the real estate.

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Why is the form of title crucial ?

The form of title affects many different aspects of the property owners' rights. Many times these different aspects require important trade-offs to arrive at the best answer for you. Some of the different aspects affected by the form of title include: 

  • how the purchase loan or re-financing is structured; 
  • the loan terms, fees, type and interest rate
  • how credit will be reported; 
  • who will receive the property on death and whether the property will be subject to probate; 
  • how the property might be divided on divorce or legal separation;
  • what creditors can lien or levy against the property;
  • eligibility for, and amount of, any homestead exemption;
  • if the property will be re-assessed on family transfers;
  • who manages the property if an owner becomes incapacitated;
  • various gift and estate tax issues;
  • what information becomes public record and what can be kept private;
  • whether capital gains taxes will be due on a sale;
  • whether the property will be eligible for tax-free exchange transactions;
  • who has authority to sign for the purchase, loan and eventual sale or exchange
  • Medi-Cal eligibility issues;
  • asset protection planning;
  • many, many, many income tax implications;
  • student aid and scholarship issues;
  • past and future bankruptcy issues;
  • and many other issues
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Why won't (or shouldn't) my agent or escrow officer advise me about the form of title ?

Because it is complex legal issue for which they are not licensed or trained to handle. When you read the answer to the question above, you will appreciate the many issues involved which require study beyond the skill and licensing of your real estate, loan or escrow professionals. The information you provide to them is not covered by attorney-client confidentiality and any answers they give you will not be covered by their errors and omissions (malpractice liability) insurance carrier. The agencies regulating real estate agents, lenders and escrow offices do not ordinarily investigate abuses in form of title issues because it is beyond the scope of the license. On the other hand, this is exactly what a lawyer is licensed for and which falls within the insurance coverage and disciplinary jurisdiction. Due to the nature of attorney licensing, the Form Of Title Hotline is currently limited to California residents or property located in California.

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Will I speak with a real attorney ?

Absolutely. Only a lawyer can legally and properly advise you about this important decision. A member of our support staff will usually gather some initial information such as your name(s), relationships, property location and credit card number, but all legal discussion is conducted directly with an attorney. Rest assured, however, that every staff member in a law office is also bound to keep your information confidential, the same as the attorney.

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What is the fee for this service?

The minimum fee is $35 when there is one owner involved and $50 when there are two owners involved (add $15 and up to 5 more minutes for each additional co-owner). This includes 15 minutes or less for one multiple owner consultation and 10 minutes or less for one single owner consultation. If your situation requires more time, our usual rate of $350 per hour applies, billed in 3 minute increments (every three minutes or portion thereof is billed at $17.50). One fax or e-mail reply with your exact wording for one property is included. Any additional costs and disbursements are billed according to our standard schedules.

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What if I need additional legal services?

As a properly informed property purchaser or owner, you may find that you choose additional legal services such as review of purchase or loan documents, powers of attorney, property co-ownership agreement, marital property agreement, living trust, incorporation, establishment of a limited liability company, asset protection planning or other legal services. Many services can be provided by our office via phone, fax, overnight delivery and email regardless of where you live. In other cases, it will be best for you to work with a local attorney. Usually, if we can't handle your needs, we will help you find a qualified attorney who will. In order to avoid conflicts of interests, we will not handle any aspect of a dispute between you and any professional who referred you to our office, unless there is an appropriate written waiver of the potential conflict.

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