Administering an Intestate Estate in California: How to Transfer Real Property to a Minor

Administering an estate can be a complex and emotionally challenging process, especially when the situation involves a minor inheriting real property. In California, specific rules and procedures are in place to facilitate the transfer of real estate ownership to a minor without the need for a Guardian of the Estate. (Prob. Code, §§ 3902 et seq.) In this article, we evaluate the options available to California administrators:

California Uniform Transfers to Minors Act

  1. Understanding the California Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA):
    The California UTMA provides a framework for transferring gifts or inheritances to minors. While it is not the only method available, it offers a convenient option for transferring real property to a minor without appointing a Guardian of the Estate. (Prob. Code, §§ 3902 et seq. [UTMA], Prob. Code, § 3925 [not exclusive of other transfers].)
  2. Conditions for Transfer:
    Before initiating the transfer, certain conditions must be met. The administrator, also known as the personal representative, must determine that the transfer is in the minor’s best interest, ensure it does not conflict with other governing documents or rules, and obtain court approval for transfers valued above $10,000 (Prob. Code, § 3906, subds. (c)(1)-(3)).
  3. Naming a Custodian:
    When transferring real property, the administrator must name a custodian as a trustee for the minor using specific language suggested in Probate Code section 3909, subdivision (a)(5). The custodian is designated to hold the property “as custodian for [name of minor] under the California Uniform Transfers to Minors Act” (Prob. Code, § 3909, subd. (a)(5)).
  4. Powers and Responsibilities of the Custodian:
    By transferring under the UTMA, the custodian receives all the powers the Act grants. (Prob. Code, § 3911, subd. (b); Prob. Code, § 3913, subd. (a); Prob. Code, § 3914, subd. (a).) This allows the custodian to act in a custodial capacity and exercise rights, powers, and authority over the custodial property for the minor’s benefit, without court intervention. (Prob. Code, § 3913, subd. (a); Prob. Code, § 3914, subd. (a).) However, the custodian’s powers are limited to acting in the minor’s best interests (Prob. Code, § 3911, subd. (b) & Prob. Code, § 3913, subd. (a)).
  5. Conveying Ownership to the Minor:
    Upon reaching the age of majority (18 years old in California) the minor becomes entitled to the ownership of the property. (Prob. Code, § 3920.) It is important to ensure the transfer is completed according to legal requirements. The deed may be written with a condition precedent, allowing the transfer to occur automatically without the custodian needing a second deed (Civ. Code, § 1110); however, this is not recommended as a method of transfer, because it restricts the custodians ability to manage the realty with the limited custodial estate.

Alternative Transfer Options

While the California Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) provides a streamlined method for transferring real property to a minor in an intestate estate, it is important to note that it is not the exclusive method available. (Prob. Code, § 3925) California law offers a few alternatives Administrators can consider when transferring real estate to a minor. Let’s explore these alternatives:

  1. Naming a Guardian of the Estate: If the personal representative or administrator chooses not to utilize the UTMA transfer, they may require a person to apply for and be named as the estate guardian. This option involves appointing a guardian with legal authority and responsibility for managing the minor’s estate, including any real property. It is important to note that this alternative may involve additional court proceedings and ongoing supervision by the court.
  2. Direct Grant to the Minor: Another alternative is directly granting the land to the minor. However, this option presents some challenges. When the property is granted directly to the minor, the minor lacks the legal capacity to transfer, encumber, or effectively manage the property. This leaves the property vulnerable and can complicate matters in the long run. Additionally, the direct grant may require the minor to reach the age of majority before taking ownership, which means the property may remain unmanaged and unprotected for an extended period.

Consultation with Legal Professionals

When transferring real property to a minor in an intestate estate, consulting with a qualified attorney or legal professional is always advisable. They can provide personalized guidance based on the specific details of the estate and the minor’s needs. Legal professionals can help explore various options, assess their advantages and disadvantages, and ensure compliance with all legal requirements.


While the California UTMA offers a convenient method for transferring real property to a minor in an intestate estate, it is important to be aware of alternative options. Naming a guardian of the estate and making a direct grant to the minor are potential alternatives Administrators can consider. Consulting with legal professionals is essential to determine the best approach based on the specific circumstances and to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

If you need to consult with a California attorney regarding your situation, please call 661-325-1300 to schedule a consultation with Jared R. Clemence of Coleman & Horowitt.