How to Transfer Car Ownership After Death

Chrysler Automobile

When a loved one passes away, there are many things to consider. You must transfer ownership of the property to the heirs if it isn’t sold during probate. One of the tasks you may be trying to figure out is how to transfer ownership of a car after death of a family member. While the process isn’t complicated, you do need to know and understand the steps to get to that point.

How the Estate is Being Handled

Transferring ownership of a vehicle is just part of the process of dispersing the estate after someone dies. Someone will be responsible for handling the estate and distributing the assets after paying debts. Depending on the size of the estate and other factors as well as the state where the estate is located, this may be a process that goes through formal or informal probate.

The Basics for How Probate Works

If you’re an heir, you need at least a basic understanding of probate. This is the legal process where the probate court oversees the dispersal of the estate and ensures that the decedent’s wishes as stated in the will are followed.

An executor is named to administer the estate and manage all the assets. They will gather and appraise the assets, pay any outstanding debts, and file taxes. Not all assets need to be appraised but real estate and motor vehicles will need to have their value established.

After all debts are paid, the executor can distribute any remaining assets to the heirs. This includes transferring ownership to the beneficiaries.

Formal and Informal Probate

Formal probate involves the probate court with each step. How much the court is involved will depend on probate laws in that state. However, the executor will need to keep a record of accounting and get approval before taking certain actions.

Informal probate is much more relaxed. The executor will take care of all the steps with very little overseeing by the probate court. They can even sell property without getting approval from the court if they need the funds to pay any debts.

When Probate isn’t Necessary

In some cases, probate isn’t necessary after someone dies. If all assets are in a trust or have named beneficiaries, there would be no need to go through the court to transfer ownership. Most states have what is known as small estate administration, which is another way to avoid probate. In this situation, the estate doesn’t have to go through probate court as long as the value is under a specific amount.

Other rules may apply, such as no real estate included or only one beneficiary, which is the surviving spouse. In this case, transferring ownership is quite simple and requires only a death certificate to be presented.

Transferring Ownership of a Vehicle

To transfer ownership of motor vehicles, you will need to present documents to the Department of Motor Vehicles showing that the vehicle owner died. They will need to show a copy of the death certificate and fill out the forms for a title transfer.

If the person was listed as transfer on death with the vehicle documents, they will only need to present a copy of the death certificate to proceed along with the completed title transfer form. Once the form is processed, the DMV will issue a new car title in the beneficiary’s name.

Selling a Car of a Deceased Person

In some cases, the heirs may not want the vehicle, or you may need to sell the motor vehicle to pay for any outstanding debts. In this situation, you will need to transfer the title to the new owner, but you don’t need to have it transferred out of the name of the deceased person.

You will need to sign the vehicle title with your name if you’re the executor and include your role as executor of the decedent. The buyer will take care of transferring the title of the motor vehicle to themselves. They will pay the registration fees at the time of title transfer.

Transferring Title of a Jointly Owned Vehicle

Sometimes the motor vehicle is owned by more than one person, such as with married couples. If one car owner dies, the other person would need to have the title transferred into their name. They would provide a copy of the death certificate and title transfer form as well as any other documentation required in that state.

How Long Does It Take to Transfer Ownership of a Vehicle After Someone Dies?

While transferring the title of a vehicle isn’t a difficult task, it can take some time if it’s part of the probate process. Any assets included in probate cannot be given to the beneficiaries until probate is completed and closed.

After the vehicle owner dies, probate can begin immediately. However, there is a minimum length of time that the case must stay open to allow for creditors to file claims against the estate. If the estate is large, the process can take even longer. You can expect probate to take up to a year or even longer in some situations. This means that it can be a year or more after the deceased person has passed away before you can transfer the car title to a family member or other heir.

If probate isn’t necessary or if the vehicle has a named beneficiary, the process will go much faster. The surviving spouse or other heir can take the documentation to the DMV and have the car title changed within a few weeks. At that time, you can also get a new license plate for the vehicle.

If you have any questions or concerns about transferring a car title that belonged to the deceased person, you can talk to a probate attorney for legal advice. They will help ensure you follow the state laws for estates and assist with filing paperwork for the local DMV office.