California Bill of Sale

You need a bill of sale in California if you’re buying or selling a horse or, in many cases, if you register a car that you bought from a private seller. A bill of sale can also offer legal protection for buyers and sellers of other valuable personal property, such as boats or firearms. Learn more about what a bill of sale entails and how to create one.

California Bill of Sale Forms by Type

Important Terms for a Bill of Sale

  • Seller: The person or party that is releasing the property. 
  • Buyers: The person or party that is taking possession of the property in exchange for consideration.
  • Date of sale: The date that the sale took place. 
  • Price: The price paid for the property. 
  • Sales tax: Indicates whether or not sales tax was collected. 
  • Description: A description of the property being sold, including make, model, year, and VIN.
  • As-is: Indicates that the item was sold as-is and without any warranties. 
  • Signature/Certification: The signature of the seller and/or buyer. In-person signatures are always valid, but you can also use PandaDoc to obtain a legal digital signature. 

1. California Bill of Sale Requirements

Although completing a bill of sale is a smart decision when buying or selling many high-value items, California only requires them in two situations:

  • Buying or selling a horse
  • Registering certain privately purchased cars or boats

For motor vehicles, you can use the form that the state of California provides (Form Reg-135) or you can draft an original document. California does not provide an official Bill of Sale for livestock. If you buy or sell a horse in California, you will need to draft your own bill of sale.

Why use one?

Private sellers are not subject to the same consumer protection laws as dealers and retailers. The seller also has minimal recourse against the buyer. For example, if a payment fails to transfer, the seller might be left without the item and without any payment. 

A bill of sale provides legal proof that the transaction took place. It serves as proof of ownership for the buyer, helping to diffuse potential legal disputes. 

For sellers, a bill of sale proves that the transfer of ownership has happened. This can protect the seller from liability issues arising from the use of the property after the sale.

Additional considerations

Language requirements

You may draft an original bill of sale in any language you choose. If you choose to use Form Reg-135 from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), be aware that these documents are only provided in English. 

You can have them translated, but you’ll need to choose a certified interpreter. Translations done by a court interpreter will be legally valid. If you need help finding a state-certified translator qualified in your chosen language, California’s court system provides a Judicial Council Master List.

Number of copies

If you are completing a bill of sale to satisfy a vehicle registration requirement, the law requires that you provide a copy to the DMV. The buyer and seller should also retain copies, which means that you would need a total of three copies.

In all other instances, one copy each for the buyer and seller should satisfy legal requirements. The exception is any translation that involves an attorney, in which case any attorney present should have a copy as well.

Junk vehicles

In the state of California, if a vehicle is reported to the DMV as a total loss by the vehicle owner or an insurer, it may be rebuilt and restored to operating condition as a revived salvage vehicle. Any revived salvage vehicle must be registered again with the DMV.

To register a revived salvage vehicle, a buyer needs several state-required documents including proof of ownership. A bill of sale fulfills this requirement if the applicant is not the person who owned the vehicle prior to salvage. There are also specific inspection requirements, including certificates of brake and lamp adjustments.

After purchasing a vehicle 

The bill of sale documents the transfer of a vehicle’s ownership, but additional documents are required for the DMV to accept the transfer.

If you’re the seller

Private sellers have five days from the date of sale to register the purchase of a car with the DMV. Sellers do this by completing and filing a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (NRL). This tells the DMV that the person is no longer responsible for violations associated with that vehicle. 

The NRL includes the:

  • New owner’s name and address
  • Seller’s name and address
  • Seller’s signature
  • Date of transfer or sale
  • Odometer reading
  • Vehicle license, make, model, and vehicle ID or vessel hull number

Because the NRL does not include the buyer’s signature, it cannot serve as legal proof that the sale occurred.

If you’re the buyer

Buyers have 10 days after purchasing a car from a private party to register the vehicle in California. To complete the process, buyers must provide:

  • The vehicle’s title (also known as a pink slip) signed by the seller
  • A bill of sale if the original owner’s name is not on the title
  • A record of the odometer mileage if the vehicle is less than 10 years old
  • A smog certification
  • Use tax and applicable fees

If the title has been lost or stolen, an Application for Duplicate or Transfer of Title is required.

2. California Car (Vehicle) Bill of Sale

For private car buyers and sellers in California, a bill of sale is an important legal safeguard that can help to prevent fraud. 

A bill of sale does not serve as proof of ownership. Only a title has that legal authority. Bills of sale serve as proof of title transfer, which buyers and sellers need for personal financial and tax records. A bill of sale also provides support against potential legal recourse and issues of ownership at the DMV. You can access the DMV’s official motor vehicle bill of sale here.

3. California Boat Bill of Sale

A boat bill of sale may be required when a buyer registers a boat purchased from a private party. Boats that require registration include:

  • A sailboat that’s more than eight feet long
  • Any boat with a motor, regardless of size

Only registered boats in these categories may sail on any California waterway, even if the waterway is private.

Registration is not required for smaller, non-motorized boats, but bills of sale are still important legal protections for private buyers and sellers. California’s Form Reg-135 is valid for boats as well as cars, or you can draft your own boat bill of sale.

4. California Firearm Bill of Sale

The private purchase and sale of a firearm are prohibited in California, so there is no official bill of sale process. A person who buys a gun from a registered dealer will receive a Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS), which has the same function and includes much of the same information as a bill of sale. The DROS includes:

  • The firearm’s make, model, and serial number
  • The type of firearm, including caliber and barrel length
  • The date of the sale
  • The buyer’s name and contact information 

Private ownership transfers are allowed if they are between:

  • A parent and child
  • A grandparent and grandchild
  • Domestic partners

Parties in a transfer always have to be 21 years of age or older in California. There are exemptions for those 18 years old or older who are licensed hunters, peace officers, law enforcement agents, or military service personnel.

The gift of a firearm to a family member or partner requires a Report of Operation of Law or Intra-Familial Handgun Transaction. This form should be submitted with a $19 processing fee to the State of California Department of Justice within 30 days of the transfer of ownership.

This document includes much of the same information as the DROS. It does not include the name of the person who transferred ownership, but it does need to specify the relationship if it’s a family transfer. If the recipient returns the gun to its original owner later, the original owner needs to fill out the form and submit the processing fee.

These are the only required documents for private gun transfer in California. A bill of sale isn’t required. You can choose to complete one for additional verification, for example, if you’d prefer to have the name of the original owner documented. 

5. California Horse or Livestock Bill of Sale

Under Section 19525 of the California Business and Professions Code, any sale or ownership transfer of a horse must include a written bill of sale. The buyer and seller, or their agents, must sign the document. There are only two exceptions:

  • When selling fractional or season interest in a stallion, the syndicate manager or stallion manager may sign.
  • If the transaction happens via public auction, an auction house’s generated receipt can serve as the bill of sale, as long as the buyer or a buyer’s agent also signs. The state only permits one person to be the agent for both buyer and seller if those two parties both consent in writing. 

California doesn’t publish an official horse bill of sale. Buyers and sellers are free to draft their own. The only requirement, other than buyer and seller signature, is that the bill of sale includes the purchase price. 

No other livestock sales require bills of sale, but they are important documents to have in case of liability or other legal disputes.

6. California General Bill of Sale

A general bill of sale proves the purchase of any non-regulated personal property. The information included should include at minimum the standard information expected on any bill of sale:

  • Date
  • Purchase price
  • Contact information
  • Signatures

FAQ: About the California Bill of Sale

What is a bill of sale?

A bill of sale is a document that legally records the transfer of ownership of an asset. It includes all of the information that a person might need to verify what was sold, by whom, and to whom. That typically includes the following:

  • Purchase date
  • Buyer’s and seller’s names and addresses
  • Item description and ID or serial number (if applicable)
  • Amount paid for the item
  • Signatures of buyer and seller
  • Notarization if required

The information on a bill of sale might be different depending on state requirements. One state might require a bill of sale for a particular transaction, such as the sale of a car, while another state may not.

How does a bill of sale benefit the buyer?

Disputes and liabilities may arise even after a purchase. A seller may make a false claim regarding the transaction or there might be an undisclosed lien on the property. With a bill of sale, a buyer can prove that the false or undisclosed information was not presented before the transaction.

Bills of sale also verify the transfer of ownership. This is important for tax, liability, and government registration purchases.

How do I get a bill of sale?

Anyone can draft and sign a bill of sale. In California, only the buyer and seller, and any agents representing them, need to sign the document. The buyer and seller may choose to have a witness sign.

In most cases, a bill of sale is not a complex document. You can use online services to create a functional bill of sale or draft one independently. For high-value and legally sensitive items, such as cars, professional services can help you to make sure that your bill of sale is complete.

What information do I need for a bill of sale?

If you’re buying or selling personal property that doesn’t require state registration and isn’t a horse, you won’t need any other information other than the basic buyer, seller, and item data. Items with identifying numbers, like cars and boats, should include that data as well. A professional service can tell you if any information is missing.

Bill of Sale Forms by State

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