Real Property Vs. Personal Property Differences

Distinguishing real property from personal property, in the narrowest sense, refers to parcels of land vs tangible objects like cars, furniture, and jewelry. When we apply legal definitions more broadly, however, real property encompasses all forms of interests that can be transferred and enjoyed, including intangible creations and intellectual developments.

Probate attorneys in California often deal with issues related to the transfer and distribution of real property as part of the estate settlement process.  Simply put, the nature of the property determines how title is held and transferred. Therefore, understanding the differences in property is essential for navigating probate law effectively.

The California Supreme Court, in the case of Ponsonby v. Sacramento Suburban Fruit Lands Co. (“Ponsonby”), clarified that when used without qualification, the term “property” is comprehensive enough to encompass all types of estates, whether real or personal, whether fully developed or inchoate (undeveloped) (Ponsonby v. Sacramento Suburban Fruit Lands Co. (1930) 210 Cal. 229, 232).

The Court went on to state that “in its proper sense, property includes everything that contributes to one’s wealth or estate” (Id.).

The California Code of Civil Procedure classifies property into two categories:

Real Property

Real property, often referred to as real estate, encompasses land and anything permanently affixed to it, natural or artificial. It is legally immovable, making it a cornerstone of property law. Key characteristics include:

Land: Real property encompasses the land itself, including the soil, minerals, and natural resources it contains. The owner of real property has all the rights of ownership, including the right to possess, sell, lease, and use the land.

Permanent Affixtures: Structures, buildings, and improvements that are permanently affixed to the land, such as houses, fences, and utility installations, are considered part of real property.

Incidentals or Appurtenances: Anything which is by right used with the land for its benefit, as in the case of a way, watercourse, or a passage for light, air, or heat from or across the land of another.

Legal Immovability: Real property is inherently immovable by law, meaning it cannot be easily detached or moved without legal processes and considerations.

Personal Property

The law makes a clear distinction between real property vs personal property. Key aspects of personal property include:

Ownership: Personal property is subject to change in ownership and possession more frequently than real property. This fluidity makes it essential to understand the specific rules and regulations governing its transfer and inheritance.

Movable: This includes a wide range of items, from vehicles and furniture to jewelry and electronics, all of which can be moved easily.

When it comes to probate, real property is often more complex to manage, involving various rights and legal stipulations, and thus requires specific expertise. Personal property, on the other hand, typically has fewer legal complications but is no less significant.

If you or your family is dealing with estate transfer or probate in California, The Kiken Group can serve you as Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange County Probate Attorney, to provide the specialized guidance, ensuring a smoother, more efficient estate settlement process. Call us today.