My Spouse Died – How Do I Sell Their Car?

When a loved one dies, there can be a lot of assets and logistics that need to be dealt with, and that can sometimes be overwhelming and emotional. A lot of this revolves around deciding what to do with the things they left behind. There are added layers of complication for things like homes and cars, which involve not only the property itself but a legal title. If someone has died and has a vehicle in their name, there are a few steps you need to take before legally being able to sell that vehicle.

In order to sell a vehicle, the person selling it must be the title holder. Usually, the person who passed away is the one whose name is on the title — confirm this, first, as there could be someone else on the title you weren’t aware of. If the title is not in their name, then the car belongs to whomever’s name is on the title. Sometimes, titles have two names on them – this is called joint ownership. If the surviving party is already on the title, all they would need to sell the car is their own ID and the death certificate of the loved one who passed away.

Assuming the title is in the name of the deceased only, find out if they had a Will, and if in that Will the ownership of the car is designated there. If so, once the executor has settled the Will and this has been determined, your local DMV can assist you in transferring the car’s title from your deceased loved one to yourself. At the very least, you should have a copy of the car’s original title and a copy of the original owner’s death certificate. You can check your state’s DMV website for a list of the documents you’ll need, or contact an estate planning attorney that can handle estate planning for you and your family.

If there is no Will, the vehicle may be subject to probate, a court process by which a judge determines who is given what assets from someone who died. This process can be lengthy, so it’s worth discussing with your family and loved ones ahead of time the importance of having a Will and enumerating the beneficiaries who will receive their property there, in order to avoid it.

If there is an outstanding loan on the car, you will need to pay off that loan before you can sell the vehicle. This is called having a “clean title.” As the new title holder, before you can sell the car you must pay the loan off — the lender will then give you a “clean title” and you can sell the car. You’ll also want to cancel any insurance the deceased person had on the car — you may need to provide the insurance company with the death certificate in addition to the title for the car in order to cancel the policy.

Once you have the title in your name and it is clean, you can sell the car just as you would any other used car. When you find a buyer, you will go through the normal process of selling and transferring the title from yourself to the buyer, and the car will be taken care of.

As always, the most simple way to plan for the transference of assets upon your or a loved one’s death is to have a complete and clear estate plan — contact McCarthy Law or another trusted estate planning attorney to make sure your family is taken care of.

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