Who Is Entitled to a Vehicle After a Person Dies If It Is Not Included in a Will or Trust?

By T.C. Edere

A vehicle not included in a will or trust instrument is passed down according to a state's rules of intestacy or as a non-probate asset. "Intestacy" means the owner died without spelling out in writing, typically through a will, who gets the vehicle, so a court must decide the question of inheritance. A non-probate asset passes to a new owner by action of law, outside the workings of the probate court overseeing the estate. Either way, the new owner must register the vehicle's title.

Intestacy

An estate is all the property, including vehicles, someone owned at the time he passed away. Some people don’t leave behind a will or trust agreement, or they fail to spell out how each item of property is to be distributed. It’s also possible that a will may be found legally defective and won’t be recognized by the court. When this happens, the property left in limbo is said to pass by intestacy. The values of the vehicle and all other intestate assets are totaled up and estate's bills and taxes paid. Afterward, the probate court disburses what’s left to the next of kin. Surviving spouses and children are usually first in line. Intestacy rules are spelled out in the estate laws of each state.

Non-Probate

With the wide range of estate planning tools available these days, much, if not most, of a decedent’s property passes to beneficiaries outside the jurisdiction of the probate court. Life insurance proceeds and pension money, for instance, go directly to the named beneficiary. Property jointly held goes automatically to the surviving spouse, including motor vehicles held in the names of both husband and wife. However, if the vehicle title was held solely in the decedent’s name, the probate court must apply the rules of intestacy.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

The Next Step

Once ownership of the vehicle is determined, the new owner must go to the state motor vehicle department. If the new owner is the surviving joint co-owner, he fills out a transfer form and presents the old title with a copy of the death certificate and proof of his own identity. The state then issues a new title. If the transfer isn't automatic, as in intestacy, the new owner registers the title by furnishing additional documents. These can include letters of administration showing who is handling the estate. The new owner may also be required to submit a hold-harmless agreement, making the new owner and not the state responsible if another claimant subsequently challenges ownership. The new owner pays all registration fees and transfer taxes.

Cautions

Motor vehicle laws – and probate laws – vary from one state to another. A beneficiary with questions about his rights to a decedent’s motor vehicle should consult an attorney. One common headache is when a lien on the old title exists. This means a bank or a leasing company has a claim on the car. That lien must be satisfied before ownership can transfer.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Sell a Vehicle in Michigan When Owner Dies Without a Will
 

References

Resources

Related articles

Can You Pass Your Timeshare to Your Heirs?

A timeshare is a luxury item that many timeshare owners would like to transfer to their heirs at death. Generally, a timeshare can be transferred at death, unless the timeshare agreement provides otherwise. Ownership of a timeshare is established by way of a deed, a lease or a contract. There are a number of ways a timeshare can be transferred at death.

What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will in Nebraska?

If someone dies with a valid will, the will leaves instructions about who should manage his estate and who should inherit his property. But, when a person dies without a will, he is said to have died “intestate” and Nebraska’s laws of intestate succession govern the way his estate is managed and distributed.

Dividing a Variable Annuity in a Divorce Settlement

When you buy an annuity, you enter into a contract with an insurance company for future payments. In a variable annuity, rather than having a set amount for future payments, the payments depend on the earnings made by annuity investments. Variable annuities are tax-deferred so that investment earnings are not taxed until the owner gets the money. Dividing a variable annuity in a divorce without unintended adverse tax consequences is tricky. A financial professional and divorce attorney can help ensure the asset is divided to reach the intended result.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Probate Court for Heirs in Mineral Rights

Mineral rights are property rights to underground substances such as oil, natural gas and precious metals. While in ...

How to Title a Vehicle in Special Needs Trust

If you have a child or relative with disabilities, you can set up a special needs trust that will provide for her ...

How to Title an Inherited Vehicle in Texas

A Texas resident may inherit a vehicle in a variety of ways following the death of a friend or family member. Whether a ...

How to Remove a Vehicle From a Family Trust

A family trust is a popular device used to ensure that a family’s assets are protected from creditors and property kept ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED