PR 07215.003 American Samoa

A. PR 00-038 Purchase of Property by Representative Payees on Behalf of Minors

DATE: June 16, 1999

1. SYLLABUS

In Region IX (San Francisco), the States of California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada, and the Pacific Trust Territories: American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, have no general preclusion against minors holding title to real or personal property.

2. OPINION

You have requested a legal opinion, on a state-by-state basis, addressing specific issues related to the purchase of property by representative payees on behalf of minors. The following opinion, preceded by a summary in the format of the opinion request, addresses the issues presented in the November 2, 1998 memorandum from the Associate Commissioner, Office of Program Benefits, appended to your memorandum of December 2, 1998.

OPINION

The questions include whether a state permits a minor to hold title to real property or personal property, such as an automobile; if so, whether there are restrictions as to the age of the minor or the types of property that can be held; whether there are specific requirements regarding how property should or must be titled to show the minor as the titleholder; and, if a state does not permit a minor to hold title, or does not permit property to be titled or registered in the name of a minor, what is the preferred method of titling the property to reflect or protect the minor's interest in the property and satisfy SSA's regulatory requirements?

Generally and historically, the right of minors to hold real and personal property has been recognized and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, see Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633, 68 S.Ct. 269 (1948), and that decision is still good law. The case law and statutes of the states in Region IX have recognized this right, primarily by implication. The general conclusion of this opinion is that minors generally can hold title, with some exceptions, but that other legal and practical concerns make it highly advisable for the property of minors to be held by trustees or other proper representatives. Specific issues with respect to how title can be held are discussed below. Since California has the most comprehensive body of law in this area, and often serves as a model for the less populous states in the Region, it is discussed first.

SUMMARY OF OPINION

American Samoa:

Q: Does the [Territory] permit a minor to hold title to real property or personal property such as an automobile?

A: As discussed in the attached opinion, there is no clear statutory or judicial authority with respect to property ownership by minors, although there is no apparent preclusion. Samoan law, however, imposes requirements of varying degrees of Samoan ancestry to own real property.

Q: If, so, are there any restrictions as to the age of the minor or the types of property that can be held?

A: As Samoan law restricts the ownership of certain types of real property to persons of certain rank under tribal law, and such rank is restricted to persons who have attained a certain age (18), it can be said that there are such restrictions with respect to limited, specific types of real property.

Q: Are there any specific requirements on how the property should/must be titled to show the minor as the titleholder?

A: No. However, see discussion in California section, above, with respect to potential problems with minors holding title.

Q: If a [Territory] does not permit a minor to hold title to property, or does not permit the property to be titled/registered in the minor's name, what is the preferred method(s) of titling the property to reflect or protect the minor's interest in the property and satisfy SSA's regulatory requirements? '

A: The discussion in the California section, above, with respect to potential legal problems arising from minors holding title in their own names also is generally applicable here. There is no apparent preclusion against property being held by a trustee or other proper representative on behalf of a minor.

Pacific Trust Territories: The laws of the Pacific Trust Territories with respect to the property of minors are somewhat inconsistent and less clear than those of the states discussed above. Although there is no preclusion against minors holding title to property in general, specific provisions discussed below raise issues with respect to certain types of property.

American Samoa: In American Samoa, the age of majority is 18. American Samoa Code Annotated (A.S.C.A.) § 40.0401. There is no clear judicial or statutory authority with respect to property ownership by minors, although there is no apparent preclusion. Samoan law with respect to the ownership of land is characterized by divisions of types of land and requirements of varying degrees of Samoan ancestry to own land. See generally Gi v. Temu (1975) 11 A.S.R. 137. It does not otherwise easily lend itself to ana