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What Happens to My Car When I Die?

A family member’s passing is a difficult time that leads the family to question, among other things, what to do with their car. The decedent’s car is part of their estate and the estate administration process, requiring action by the fiduciary of the estate or, under certain circumstances, the decedent’s next of kin. Checking with an estate planning attorney in New York ensures you won’t waste your time trying to figure out the right way to do it.

The New York Department of Motor Vehicles suggests, but does not require, a copy of the decedent’s death certificate and driver’s license to be mailed to the DMV License Production Bureau in Albany. Mailing these items prevents further mailings from the New York DMV and identity theft.

Ordinarily, when a car is titled in the decedent’s name alone, rather than jointly or in an estate trust, a fiduciary of the estate is appointed in the Surrogate’s Court in the County where the decedent resided at the time of their death. That person may transfer or sell the vehicle. However, there are exceptions:

A surviving spouse or minor child under the age of 21 can transfer the title to themselves or another party for their benefit, without court appointment if:

  • The car is the only motor vehicle belonging to the decedent
  • The value is no more than $25,000

To do this, the surviving spouse or minor child must provide the New York DMV with a copy of the decedent’s death certificate, the original title to the car, and a completed New York DMV Form MV-349.1 titled Affidavit for Transfer of Motor Vehicle.

When there is no spouse or a minor child under the age of 21, the next of kin can transfer the title to themselves or another party without court appointment if:

  • The car is the only motor vehicle belonging to the decedent
  • The value of the car is no more than $25,000
  • No will is being offered for probate
  • No Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration have been issued

To do this, the next of kind must provide the New York DMV with a copy of the decedent’s death certificate, the original title to the car, and a completed New York DMV Form MV-349 titled Transfer of Vehicle Registered in Name of Deceased Person.

When the decedent’s car does not fall under one of the two exceptions above, and a fiduciary is appointed for the decedent’s estate, they can transfer or sell the car by providing the New York DMV with:

  • A copy of the decedent’s death certificate
  • The original title of the car
  • A copy of their letter of appointment from the Surrogate’s Court
  • A New York DMV Form DTF-802 Statement of Transaction or DTF-803 Claim for Sales and Use Tax Exemption.

Form DTF-803 is only required when the fiduciary is selling the car and claiming that the buyer is exempt from sales tax. It is important to note that the individual who transferred or sold the vehicle is ordinarily responsible for filing the documents with the New York DMV and must provide proof of their identity and proof of insurance for the vehicle.

As a reminder, your family member’s car should not be driven until the title has been successfully transferred and insurance has been obtained. Until then, the car should remain in the garage or driveway.

If you aren’t sure which situation above applies to you, an estate planning attorney in New York can clarify it. Please contact our office to schedule a consultation to inquire about transferring a loved one’s vehicle with or without a will or estate trust.

The attorneys at Russo Law Group, P.C. are experienced in all aspects of the estate administration process and can explain the documents needed to transfer a vehicle title quickly.

Russo Law Group, P.C.
100 Quentin Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 102
Garden City, NY 11530
800-680-1717

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