How to distribute a deceased person’s cars to an estate beneficiary or heir when the decedent is the sole owner

Learn how to distribute a car through an estate to a beneficiary.
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How to distribute a deceased person’s cars to an estate beneficiary or heir when the decedent is the sole owner

Jenna Mendelsohn
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To transfer a vehicle when only the deceased person is on the vehicle Certificate of Title:

If there is an existing will, the will must first go through Probate to obtain Letters Testamentary (known as an Executor’s Certificate in certain states) to gain legal authority to take possession of the vehicle.

If no will exists, one must still go through the appropriate court to obtain Letters of Administration to be authorized to take control of and distribute the vehicle.

Note that in a state like Maryland, you are not required to visit the DMV to get the car transfer done and can visit a Tag and Title place instead to avoid long wait times and added stress. When visiting the Motor Vehicle Association, DMV, or a Tag and Title place, be sure to complete the Assignment of Ownership section on the reverse side of the Certificate of Title document. 

If the estate requires that a vehicle be distributed to someone through a bequest in the will (or, to an heir if there is no will, such as a surviving spouse or child who uses the car), the estate’s representative (i.e. an Administrator, Executor or Personal Representative) should first complete the Assignment of Ownership section on the top portion on the Certificate of Title. 

You can use the below example of how to complete it:

Here is an example, for illustration purposes, of the specific way you must complete the back of the Title form to effectuate a transfer to a beneficiary


**If there is a loan for the car, be sure to complete the Lien Information section on the reverse side of the Certificate of Title document. If no loan exists for the vehicle, in the lien information section, write “none.” If there was a previously existing car loan on the title document but the loan is fully paid off, you must attach a Notice of Security Interest Filing or a Release of Lien letter from the loan company on their letterhead.

If you are responsible for distributing vehicles to an estate beneficiary, to avoid several trips to MVA, DMV or Tag and Title, be sure to have all the required documents available:

  1. The original Certificate of Title completed as described above
  2. An original or certified copy of the death certificate (unless you already received correspondence from the MVA regarding the death)
  3. Copy of the Registration card for the vehicle
  4. Car insurance policy card
  5. Your driver’s license
  6. Original Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary

**Safety inspection required if the vehicle is not being transferred to a child or spouse.

**Title fee ($100) applies except when the vehicle is transferring to the surviving spouse.


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