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
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, 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
Northern Mariana Islands:
Q: Does the [Territory] 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 property,
and the case law recognizes such right, by implication.
Q: If, so, are there any restrictions as to the age of the minor or the types of property
that can be held?
A: Northern Mariana Islands law restricts the ownership of real property to persons
who are at least one-quarter Northern Mariana descent, as defined in the N.M.I. Constitution,
Article XII. Also, 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: 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
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: Not generally applicable. However, see discussion in California section, above, with respect to potential problems with
minors holding title.
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.
Northern Mariana Islands: The age of majority in the Northern Mariana Islands is 18.
8 C.M.C. § 1106. Applicable case law indicates that a minor is not precluded from
holding title to property. In Cabrera v. Cabrera (1992) 3 N.M.I. 1, a dispute arose over land gifted to a minor. The ability of the
minor to hold title apparently was never in dispute, just the formal elements of a
valid gift. The court found that one necessary element, delivery, was lacking and
that the minor failed to acquire title to the property on this basis alone. Perhaps
even more significant with respect to restraints on holding title to real property
is the fact that one must be of at least one-quarter Northern Mariana descent, as
defined in the N.M.I. Constitution, Article XII. See Ferreira v. Boria (1992) 2 N.M.I. 514, 521-523. These Islands also apparently have not adopted the
Uniform Transfers (or Gifts) to Minors 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.