How to Transfer a Car Title When The Owner Is Deceased

After a person passes away, it is often a challenge for loved ones to figure out what happens next. In addition to the emotional and mental distress of losing someone, there are added challenges when it comes to handling everything the deceased person left behind. Whether you are an executor or a relative, you may find yourself in need of assistance when it comes to things like last wills and testaments, medical records, or titles.

In this guide, we will discuss one of those topics – how to transfer a car title. Transferring ownership of a car after death is one of the many cumbersome tasks that are left in the hands of loved ones and beneficiaries. While it is likely one of the last things a grieving person wants to deal with, it is a part of the process of handling the deceased person’s belongings. To help you with the process, we’ve outlined the few steps you will need to take to transfer the title.

How to Transfer a Car Title When The Owner Is Deceased

So, why do you need to transfer a car title when the owner is deceased? This process is necessary for beneficiaries if you want to keep the vehicle, gift it to a family member, or sell the vehicle to someone else. However, it is not as simple as handing over the keys to the new owner. Below, we will discuss who is in charge of the title transfer, as well as the steps to take if the vehicle is a part of a probated estate, what to do if there is no probate, and how to sell the vehicle.

Who Is Responsible For Transferring A Car Title Of A Deceased Person?

We’ve been asked a form of this question many times: “My husband died and my name is not on the car title. What do I do?” Whether you are a surviving spouse, a joint-owner, or a beneficiary, you have the legal authority and obligation to transfer the title of the vehicle to someone else after the owner has passed away (if the vehicle is going to be used, that is). The way to do so simply depends on whether or not the vehicle is part of a probated estate. 

Is The Vehicle Part of a Probated Estate?

Once a vehicle owner has passed away, the process for transferring the car title of the deceased person varies depending on whether the vehicle title was in the individual’s name as a decedent or whether it was in a joint ownership. If the title was only in the decedent’s name, you’ll need to determine if the estate is being probated.

What’s a probated estate? Probate is a legal process that involves administering the estate of the individual who has passed away. It typically happens when there is no living spouse or beneficiary listed on the will. A probate proves that the last will and testament is legitimate, checking out the deceased person’s assets and property. Then, the Probate Court determines how to proceed with the person’s belongings. During this process, the deceased individual’s property will be distributed based on their will.

If the vehicle is part of a probated estate, follow these steps to transfer the car title of a deceased person:

1. Contact Probate Court and attorney.

A car title cannot be transferred until the probate is completed, so the executor or administrator of the deceased should contact Probate Court or an attorney as soon as possible to receive further instruction. Depending on the situation and the circumstances, getting the title transferred can be a complicated process. Because every situation is different, it helps to have someone who understands the legal process working in your favor. Once the probate is completed, the heir will receive the vehicle, or the executor can opt to sell it if he or she was the one given the vehicle.

2. Gather the required documents to transfer the car title of a deceased person.

While the documents needed does vary slightly from one state to the next, you need to have all of the following in order to transfer the title in most states:

  • Order from Probate Court to transfer the vehicle
  • Certificate of the title
  • Odometer disclosure statement
  • Death certificate
  • Transfer fee
3: Visit the Title Office.

If you are the beneficiary of the vehicle or the administrator of the deceased person’s estate, you can visit the Title Office with the above documents to initiate the title transfer.

How to Transfer a Car Title Without Probate

The process of transferring the title of a vehicle without probate varies depending on what state you live in. Most states require the deceased individual’s property not to exceed a certain amount and it to be a certain amount of time since the person has passed away before the transfer of the title can be initiated.

In many states, the Department of Motor Vehicles makes it fairly easy to transfer the car title of a deceased person when there is no probate involved. If you are the administrator, joint-owner, spouse, or beneficiary, you may only need to take the death certificate and the title of the car to your Title Office and they will retitle it – no court order or attorneys required.

Affidavit To Transfer Without Probate

In some cases, the vehicle of the deceased person will be in the possession of someone other than the beneficiary or administrator or the will. This does not mean that the vehicle is gifted to that person, however. If there is no probate on the deceased person’s belongings, the beneficiary can use an affidavit in order to obtain possession of the vehicle. In most states, you can find the Affidavit for Transfer of Personal Property form online.

Keep in mind, using an Affidavit for Transfer of Personal Property is not the same thing as transferring the title of the vehicle. You will still need to follow the steps mentioned above after gaining possession of the vehicle.

How To Sell The Car of a Deceased Person

If you have already transferred the title, you can sell the vehicle of the deceased person much like you would sell any used car. However, if the beneficiary or executor is certain they want to sell the car after the person has passed, they do not necessarily need to get the title transferred prior to putting the vehicle on the market. Instead, they can put the car up for sale; once they find a buyer, the beneficiary or executor will sign the title with their name and role (executor for [deceased person’s name]). Then, the buyer will be in charge of getting the title transferred themselves.

There may additional registration fees depending on what the status of the vehicle is. All of these fees will be determined and relayed to you after you submit your application to your local DMV. Furthermore, in the event that the vehicle was not registered by the deceased, the new owner will be held responsible for paying any registration fees or penalties.

To learn more about handling the legalities of a deceased family member, here’s a look at how to obtain medical records of someone who has passed away.

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