Dealing with the DMV

Let’s face it, no one looks forward to dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles. This can be even more stressful when coupled with the loss of a loved one. We frequently receive questions on transferring title to vehicles (this includes boats, RV’s, etc.) that are part of an estate. In some instances this may or may not include a mobile home. Here is some information to help you along:

In August 2011, the Department of Motor Vehicles changed its procedures. Previously a form called an Affidavit of Inheritance was required to transfer title to a vehicle. Under the current procedure, you will need the original title, along with DMV Form 400, and the appropriate fee. Other documents you need to complete this transaction will depend on (a) how the vehicle is titled and (b) the value of the estate/other assets. Determining these up front will make sure you have what you need to have before you head to the DMV.

A. HOW IS THE VEHICLE TITLED? There a three (3) options for how a vehicle can be titled:

  1. SOLE OWNERSHIP: If Decedent’s name is the only one of the title, then he/she was the sole owner of the vehicle. It does not matter who drove the vehicle or who paid taxes on the vehicle. This means that the vehicle will pass through the Estate, see (b) below to determine value of the estate.
  2. JOINT OWNERSHIP / TENANTS IN COMMON: If the deceased owned the vehicle with someone else and the names are listed using “and”, the vehicle is owned as tenants in common. The decedent’s interest (50% when 2 owners) passes through the estate according to the will or intestacy. See below (b) to further determine what documents you need to proceed.
  3. JOINT OWNERSHIP WITH RIGHTS OF SURVIVORSHIP: If the deceased owned the vehicle with someone else and the names are listed using “or”, then it is owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship. We have explained the differences between joint tenants with rights of survivorship and tenants in common in a previous post. If this is the case, all that is needed is the original title showing the “or” relationship and the DMV Form 400. You do not need to worry about the value of the estate in this scenario as the vehicle is a non-probate asset and will transfer directly to the other owner.

B. VALUE OF THE ESTATE?

  1. $25,000 OR LESS: If the value of the estate is $25,000 or less, a certified copy of the Affidavit of Collection for Personal Property (a “small estate affidavit”) is needed to transfer title in addition to the Form 400. If you haven’t opened the estate the Probate Court or your attorney will assist you in determining if you qualify for a small estate.
  2. GREATER THAN $25,000: If the value of the estate is greater than $25,000 or for other reasons did not qualify for a small estate, an original Certificate of Appointment from the Probate Court less than one year old is needed in addition to the Form 400. The Personal Representative may reassign the title as directed by the Will or under the intestacy statute.

If you have specific questions regarding how to handle a vehicle or mobile home, consultation with an experienced probate attorney may be helpful. These guidelines are also important to keep in mind when acquiring a new vehicle or creating an estate plan.

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