PR 07215.014 Hawaii

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

Hawaii:

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

A: Here also, there is no general preclusion against minors holding title to real or personal property. Specific statutory and case law are discussed in the attached opinion.

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

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

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 State 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: Not generally applicable. However, see discussion in California section, above, with respect to potential problems with minors holding title.

Hawaii: In Hawaii, the age of majority is 18, H.R.S. § 577-1, and there is no general preclusion against a minor holding title to real or personal property. Here also, however, concerns similar to those set forth above with respect to California apply.

Hawaiian courts, although more by implication and with less specificity than the California courts, also traditionally have recognized the right of minors to hold property. In the early case of Thurston v. Bishop (1888) 7 Haw. 421, the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii applied a general statute of limitations that required that claims to real property be presented to a lands commission within a certain time period. The court specifically found that the statute of limitations had no exception for infancy, implying that title to the subject property otherwise could have been vested in the minor, who was ten years old at the time he had received an oral bequest. The subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kapiolani Estate v. Atcherley, 238 U.S. 119, 35 S.Ct. 832 (1915) addressed the property rights of a minor in Hawaii. There, the Court indirectly discussed the rights of a minor whose testamentary guardian had improperly obtained title to Hawaiian real property in his own name. Although it remanded the case for notice deficiencies, the Court recognized that the Supreme Court of Hawaii had discussed the fact that, in cases where a guardian, intentionally or otherwise, takes title to property of a ward in his or her own name, equity will regard the land as being the property of the ward and order the conveyance of the legal title. 238 U.S. at 132.

In Decano v. Hutchison Sugar Co. (1962) 45 Haw. 505, 371 P.2d 217, the Supreme Court of Hawaii held that a foreclosure of real property was as binding against the interests of minors as against those of adults. The court recognized the property interests of the minors, which had been obtained through inheritance, but found that their minority was not a defense against the foreclosure, as their interests were taken subject to the prior mortgage. Compare Magoon v. Pioneer Mill Co. (1905) 17 Haw. 159 (recognizing property rights of minor, but holding that period of limitations necessary for acquisition of title by adverse possession could not commence to run against minor

Cases addressing contracts and conveyances by minors in Hawaii generally have found them voidable. See Pae v. Stevens, 256 F.2d 208, 212-2115 (9th Cir. 1958). Thus, potential problems due to minors holding title are similar to those discussed above with respect to California. The Hawaii Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, H.R.S § 553A-1, et seq., offers essentially similar features as the California version of the Act.

1/ All references in this memorandum to the age of majority will be to the age at which an individual no longer is considered to be a minor under the general statutory provisions of the particular state or territory. It should be noted that the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, as codified by certain states, defines minors differently for the provisions of that statutory scheme. See Hawaii Revised Statutes (H.R.S.) §§ 577-1 (age 18), 553A-1 (age 21); Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) §§ 1-215 (age 18), 14-7651 (age 21).

2/ 8 U.S.C. § 42, now 42 U.S.C. § 1982. Also noteworthy is fact that the referenced statute specifically pertains to both real and personal property.

3/ With the exception of emancipated minors. See Cal. Fam. Code § 7050.


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1507215014
PR 07215.014 - Hawaii - 10/09/2008
Batch run: 01/27/2009
Rev:10/09/2008