How to Transfer Vehicle Title After the Owner’s Death

How to Transfer Vehicle Title After the Owner's Death

Being left behind by a loved one is a difficult time for many people. However, the inheritance they leave behind must be settled. One of the assets left in many cases is a car or vehicle.

You need to manage the transfer of ownership rights of the vehicle from the deceased owner to the new owner according to the legal regulations in the United States. Keep reading to find out the rules and procedures in detail!

What Needs to Be Done with the Vehicle If the Owner Passes Away?

After the car owner passes away, the new ownership of the vehicle needs to be addressed. This may be the last thing on the minds of grieving individuals.

However, timely transfer of ownership rights can prevent further billing notices, ensure freedom from debt, and avoid identity theft. Additionally, a well-maintained car or vehicle is usually given to or sold to a new owner.

Transferring ownership rights may not be as easy as handing over the keys to a new car. This is because sometimes vehicles have their own legal processes that must be followed.

The first step you need to take is to determine whose name is on the vehicle title, whether it’s just the deceased or if there’s another name on it. For example, for vehicles owned jointly by spouses.

Next, you need to determine whether the deceased’s vehicle is one of the assets or inheritances. If the vehicle is listed in the will, you must wait for the probate process to be completed.

Who has the right to transfer the vehicle title? This is a right for the surviving spouse, surviving joint owner, or heirs. If you are one of them, then the responsibility for transferring ownership rights of the vehicle lies with you.

Completing the transfer of ownership as soon as possible can give you peace of mind. It also helps relieve the beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate of some responsibilities, such as the following.

    • Parking tickets
    • Car loan or payment
    • Accidents
    • Vehicle-related crimes
    • Vehicle insurance policies

Transferring Ownership of a Vehicle After Death

The transfer of vehicle ownership from the deceased old owner to the new owner is based on several conditions as follows:

1. Single Owner’s Death

You need to check the name listed on the vehicle title. Was the deceased vehicle owner the sole owner or not? If the previous owner was the sole owner, then the ownership of the vehicle must be transferred depending on who becomes the new owner of the vehicle.

2. Joint Ownership of the Vehicle

If the inherited asset is jointly owned, the surviving owner does not need to transfer ownership rights. Perhaps the court only needs to record this change.

3. Vehicle is Part of the Will

Often, deceased individuals have a number of inherited assets in the probate process. If the car or vehicle is one of them, then the vehicle title cannot be transferred to the new owner until the probate court process is completed.

4. Vehicle Not Included in the Will

If the vehicle is not included in the will, there may already be an inheritance distribution plan in place before the death. Transferring ownership of the vehicle may be quicker and easier than waiting for the probate court to approve the will.

How to Transfer Vehicle Ownership with Will Probate

Will probate is a legal process that deals with the inheritance of a deceased person’s estate. This process is usually required if there is no spouse or no beneficiaries in the will.

The court will examine the deceased’s estate with a valid will. Then, determine how to distribute the estate based on the will. If the car or vehicle is part of the will but has not been probated, then you need to do the following:

1. Contact the Probate Court

It should be noted that you cannot transfer ownership of a vehicle that is still in probate. You have to wait until the probate process is completed. Therefore, it is best to contact the probate court immediately. Probate courts may provide further instructions regarding your inherited vehicle that is still in the probate process.

2. Contact a Lawyer

The process of transferring ownership of a vehicle varies depending on the situation and condition. You may encounter more challenging processes than expected due to certain situations. It is advisable for you to seek legal assistance from professionals. Lawyers who understand legal issues can guide you through the probate process until it is approved by the judge.

3. Collecting Documents

Consulting with legal experts and courts in your state may be a good idea. This is because the procedures and documents required for transferring ownership of a vehicle may vary slightly from one state to another. Some common required documents include:

– Court order from the probate court

You need a letter from the court allowing the transfer of vehicle ownership. This document is mandatory if your vehicle is an inherited asset listed in the deceased’s will.

– Vehicle title certificate

Original or copy of the title certificate from the state where you reside for the transfer of vehicle ownership.

– Death certificate of the previous owner

A death certificate or death record is required to prove or verify that the vehicle owner has passed away.

– Odometer disclosure statement and emission inspection

If required, you may also need to prepare a statement regarding the odometer and emission quality of the vehicle.

– Proof of payment for the vehicle ownership transfer fee

You need to provide proof of payment to show that you have completed all obligations for the vehicle ownership transfer fee.

4. Visit the DMV or Title Office

The final step is to submit all documents to the local DMV office. The process of transferring vehicle ownership will be handled by the officers. Follow further instructions as directed by the officer handling your case.

How to Transfer Vehicle Ownership without Probate Will Confirmation

Regulations regarding the transfer of vehicle ownership of a deceased owner depend on the regulations of each state. Most states have rules regarding the amount or value of assets and the timeframe for transferring assets since the owner’s death.

For example, in New York, confirmation letters may not be required if the car or vehicle is valued under $25,000 and is transferred to a spouse or heir. The process of transferring ownership may be easier because you do not need a probate court order or a lawyer.

You can apply to the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). For those who have not done this before, here are the step-by-step instructions for transferring vehicle ownership.

1. Application for Ownership Transfer

You can contact the DMV to apply for ownership transfer. Usually, you will be asked to provide the death certificate and a photocopy of the driver’s license or identification card of the deceased vehicle owner.

The DMV can process and verify the identity of the vehicle owner. This is to prevent mail delivery, billing, and identity theft.

2. Collecting Documents

Next, you need to prepare the documents required for the vehicle title transfer.

    • Ownership transfer application letter (signed by the new owner)
    • Proof of name and date of birth (sent in the form of photocopies, but original documents must be shown when visiting the DMV)
    • Original certificate or proof of ownership
    • Release of lien (if there is a loan on the vehicle)
    • Current vehicle inspection report (if required)

3. Fill Out the Appropriate Form

You need to fill out the vehicle ownership transfer form that corresponds to the situation and condition. Usually, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has several form formats with different functions.

The form for transferring vehicle ownership without probate confirmation is different from the transfer that uses probate confirmation. You can contact your local DMV to obtain the appropriate form.

4. Pay the Fee

The fees charged in each state may vary for the ownership transfer process. Transferring vehicle ownership in New York incurs a fee of $50 for transfer to a surviving spouse.

Additionally, you will also be charged for the vehicle plates. For surviving spouses, there is a $10 fee for transferring old plates and a fee for the weight difference of the vehicle.

Plus, there are fees for new plates and a 2-year registration of around $25. For vehicles with special or personalized plates, applications can be made through special plate units at the DMV office.

5. Complete the Vehicle Ownership Transfer

Visit the DMV office in your state to complete the ownership transfer process. Some DMVs may require you to make an appointment first. You can visit the office on the scheduled date or appointment.

The process of transferring vehicle ownership at the DMV varies, it can be quick or take longer depending on the complexity of your vehicle ownership. High transfer request volume can also make this process longer than it should be.

6. Receive the New Ownership

Once you have submitted all documents and paid all fees, vehicle ownership will be transferred to the new owner. The DMV in your location will issue a new vehicle ownership certificate as requested.

The new vehicle certificate or documents can be sent to your address. Please contact the DMV in your state to find out how long the vehicle ownership transfer process for a deceased owner takes.

What if Vehicle Documents are Lost?

In the process of transferring ownership rights, original vehicle documents are essential. The vehicle ownership certificate lists the owner’s name, determining the appropriate ownership transfer process.

What if you’re searching for vehicle documents and find that the document or ownership certificate is missing? Good news for you because a vehicle without its ownership document can still be transferred.

The DMV won’t complicate the ownership transfer process as long as you provide a death certificate and documents proving your relationship with the deceased. These provisions may only apply to beneficiaries who are heirs or immediate family members of the deceased vehicle owner.

How Long Does the Vehicle Ownership Transfer Process Take?

Transferring vehicle ownership isn’t overly complicated. However, several factors can slow down the vehicle ownership transfer process. Here are some factors that can prolong the transfer of vehicle ownership:

    • Probate process for wills (You may have to wait for the probate process to finish, which can take up to 6 months or more).
    • Incomplete or missing documents.
    • Vehicles with outstanding debts.

Specifically for jointly owned vehicles where one owner passes away, the surviving owner doesn’t transfer ownership because their name is already on the ownership certificate. For example, a car owned by spouses.

If a spouse dies, the surviving partner simply needs to visit the DMV office with the death certificate and vehicle documents. The DMV will update the ownership data for the car.

What if There’s a Lien or Loan on the Vehicle?

It’s advisable to ensure that the car or vehicle is free from liens and loans. Before proceeding with the ownership transfer process, you need to confirm with the creditor or lender.

If there’s a lien or loan, it can complicate legal proceedings. You may struggle to obtain clear ownership rights due to claims from the creditor on the vehicle.

In legal situations like this, it’s wise to seek professional assistance. You can hire a consultant or lawyer to help navigate all the processes.

Can the Vehicle be Repossessed by Creditors?

As mentioned, it’s highly recommended to settle liens and loans on the vehicle before transferring ownership. Can creditors attempt to repossess your vehicle?

This depends on the type of loan taken and the regulations in each state. In Florida law, for example, cars are one of the properties exempted from liens or loans.

If the previous owner had credit card debt, the company cannot take the car to settle the debt. Note that the maximum number of exempt vehicles is two motor vehicles.

There’s a possibility that creditors can repossess the car if the loan was used to finance the car. For instance, loans from leasing or motor vehicle credit. They have the right to take over the car for unpaid payments after the owner’s death.

What Happens to Car Insurance After the Owner’s Death?

You need to review the car insurance policy for a deceased owner’s car. This ensures whether the insurance terminates upon the owner’s death or still protects the inherited asset.

If the policy is for the family, the insured listed in the insurance gets protection. If the policy terminates after the insured or car owner’s death, it’s advisable not to use the car.

Selling a Deceased Person’s Car

Once the vehicle ownership has been transferred to your name, you can sell the car like any other used vehicle. If you, as the listed beneficiary, decide to sell the car, you may not need to transfer ownership.

You can sell the car to a buyer by signing the ownership (acting on behalf of the deceased). The buyer will then be responsible for transferring the vehicle’s ownership themselves.

So, the vehicle ownership transfer process if the owner passes away will be adjusted according to the situation and conditions. Ownership transfer requirements and processes may vary in each state.

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