What Do I Do With the Car When a Loved One Dies?
Read our step by step guide to transfer the car to an heir or surviving spouse without opening a probate.
When someone dies owning a car, one of the first things to do is to immediately secure and safely store the vehicle. Then, any existing auto insurance policy should be reviewed to determine if coverage exists and the insurance company should be contacted so that an endorsement to the automobile insurance policy can be issued. All parties should then be instructed to not use the automobile until the proper insurance is in place.
Once these steps have been taken, the next step depends on several factors, including:
- whose name is on the certificate of title
- whether the certificate of title can be found,
- whether the decedent died with a Will or not,
- whether there is a surviving spouse,
- whether the title was held by the decedent alone or with others, and
- whether title has been devised in a Will.
Under Florida Probate Law, a surviving spouse, or if none, the children, are entitled to exempt property, which includes up to two automobiles used by the decedent or members of the decedent’s immediate family as a personal automobile. Therefore, before distributing a car, it must be determined if it will be claimed as exempt property.
Please note, if an automobile is devised in the Will, then it’s not exempt property and it should be transferred to the proper recipients as early in the administrative process as possible. Most cars decline in value so the sale or distribution of the car should take place early if an probate estate is opened.
Procedure to Transfer A Car Title
After the issues above are addressed, the proper party should then proceed to a transfer agent (a tag agency or a Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office) to facilitate the transfer of the automobile. There are different DMV forms to be used depending on whether a probate estate has been opened. If no Estate is being administered and it is not in debt, then Form 82040 is used along with a copy of a death certificate and a copy of a will, if it exists, are used to transfer ownership (Florida Statute 319.28 allows for the transfer of a vehicle by operation of law, which means a certificate of title can be issued to an heir at law). If an estate has been opened, the Personal Representative has the authority to sign the reverse side of the certificate of title and transfer ownership when the transfer agent is presented with the Letters of Administration.
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