A lot of people own a car, truck, boat, motor home or motorcycle. And a lot of people forget about those type of assets during the estate planning process. That's why probate attorneys often see estates where a car, motorcycle or motor home must be probated, but the remainder of the decedent's assets pass outside of probate. I'm often asked, "How do you transfer a car title from a relative who died?" The answer: It depends.
If the relative has a surviving spouse, the surviving spouse can transfer the car into his/her name at the County Clerk of Courts Title Office without going to Probate Court. The surviving spouse may transfer an unlimited number of vehicles valued up to $65,000 and one boat and one outboard motor upon the death of a married Ohio resident. The surviving spouse needs to take the original title, certified death certificate, photo ID, Application for Certificate of Title to a Motor Vehicle (BMV Form 3774), Clerk of Courts Surviving Spouse Affidavit (BMV Form 3773) (listing vehicle make, model, year, body type, and vehicle identification number (VIN) and the value of the vehicle), and payment for title fees to the Title Office.
If the relative named a beneficiary on the title, the beneficiary can transfer the car into his/her name at the Title Office without going to Probate Court.
If the relative owned the car jointly with someone with right of survivorship, the surviving party applies for the certificate of title at the Title Office, and the title is issued in the survivor’s name showing “acquired by right of survivorship.” If the relative owned the car jointly with someone without right of survivorship, the signature of an executor or an administrator is required.
If the relative was not married at the time of his death, did not add a beneficiary to the title, and had no co-owner with right of survivorship, the Probate Court gets involved. The car must be probated even if the relative had a Last Will and Testament. The Title Office will not transfer the title to anyone without an Order from Probate Court or the signature from an executor or administrator of the estate.
A member of the decedent's family may be able to obtain a Release from Probate Court, rather than opening a full-blown estate for the deceased relative, if the combined value of the car and any other probate assets does not exceed the statutory limit. In addition, the Probate Court can order that the car be transferred directly to the person who has paid or is obligated in writing to pay the relative's funeral and burial expenses, if the value of the car is the lesser of $5,000 or the amount of decedent's funeral and burial expenses.
If an estate must be opened for the decedent, you can read my prior blog post on "Five Steps to Open an Estate at Probate Court." Once the estate is open, the executor or administrator must list the car as an asset on the estate inventory. The executor or administrator either sells the car or transfers the car to an heir named in the decedent's Will or according to the Ohio Statute of Descent and Distribution. The Ohio Statute of Descent and Distribution is the law that defines how the probate assets in an intestate estate (i.e., estate with no Will) will be distributed to the decedent's heirs after all claims, expenses and taxes have been paid.
Who knew that transferring a car title could be so complicated?!? If you want to avoid this mess, especially if you are not married, the best thing to do is to add a beneficiary to your car, truck, boat, motor home or motorcycle title in order to avoid probate.