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Publish Date - December 01, 2020

Author: Douglas Parker

Categories:   Tips & Insights For Car Buying    Useful Automotive Information   

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

If someone passes away and they do not have a will or a trust, it can be difficult to distribute all of their property, including vehicles

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If someone passes away and they do not have a will or a trust, it can be difficult to distribute all of their property, including vehicles. If the vehicle in question is part of probate proceedings around that person’s deaths, then it might need to go through the courts, with an executor and the courts helping to work out who is entitled to it. This can be a long, drawn-out process.

If probate isn’t required then some members of the family can submit affidavits or proof that the vehicle is rightfully theirs to inherit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is different for each state.

How a Car Title Transfer Works

If someone is to die without a will it might be a straightforward process. A lot of this depends on next of kin and heirs. If you are named on the deeds of the vehicle, for instance, if it is joint ownership within a married couple, you will be the beneficiary, and depending on what the local probate court say, it may not need to go through probate at all. If you bought the car with that person and took out a used car loan, for instance, being named on the car loan may also mean you are responsible for paying the rest of that debt.

If probate court isn’t essential then you need to talk to the Department of Motor Vehicles for your state. They will tell you which forms are required and what records might be needed if you are to get the vehicle ownership switched to yourself, or to other owners. As mentioned, you might have to sign an affidavit.

Required Documents and Fees

Once again, the only way to establish the fees is to see what they are in the state in which you reside. Each state has its own different rules and regulations, and there will be an administrative fee attached to the process of transferring a vehicle’s ownership to somebody new.

The documents required are pretty much universally the same, no matter where you are in the US. For most states, you will need all of the following if you are to transfer vehicle ownership after somebody has passed:

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 the relevant Probate Court that the DMV is to transfer the vehicle
  • Certificate of the title
  • Odometer disclosure statement to prove mileage of the car
  • Death certificate
  • The transfer fee (variable)

State Intestacy Statutes

As you will see from reading this guide, laws in each state are absolutely crucial. Intestacy laws are different for each state. Most of the time, if you have a spouse but no children, the spouse is entitled to the vehicle, as well as your other belongings, if you pass away. If you’re not married, and you have children, these count as your next of kin and will receive your property.

If you don’t have a spouse or children things might get complex. The law might divide belongings, and parents and siblings might be deemed to be the rightful owners of any of your belongings, this includes vehicles.

You can see why probate courts are important. They play a vital role in dividing up belongings and ensuring that they are given to the rightful owners after your passing in the eyes of the law.

You might have different ideas about what you want to happen to your belongings, and if you are wondering what might happen to your vehicle once you pass, or what happens to a loved one’s belongings, estate planning is the right thing to do to ensure that items go to the desired recipient, instead of other family members getting involved and claiming ownership of vehicles or other property.


Vehicles usually end up with immediate family in the event of a death, but this can vary from state to state. It is important to gather evidence, establish whether the car is to go through probate, and discuss matters with the court.