How to Sell a Vehicle Owned by Someone Who Died

Selling a vehicle owned by someone who died involves multiple steps. The exact procedure that you'll follow depends on the state in which the vehicle is titled, that state's titling procedures, what legal conditions exist in regard to the deceased's property, whether there is a lien (car loan) on the vehicle and the state's additional requirements for issuing titles. The peripheral requirements may include emissions tests (smog certification in California), odometer reporting and various taxes and fees. The basic procedure is to retitle the vehicle in the name of the inheritor and then transfer the title to the buyer.

Things You'll Need

  • Vehicle title


    • 1

      Find the title to the vehicle. This may be in the deceased's personal effects (if the vehicle was owned free and clear) or represented by loan documentation (if the title was assigned to a lender.) If the title cannot be found, contact your state agency for instructions on obtaining a duplicate title in the deceased's name. Determine whose name(s) are on the title. Look for the name of a transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary or, if the vehicle is owned by a spouse, a statement of joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTROS). If these or equivalent instructions exist, the vehicle can be retitled by submitting the title and a certificate of death to the appropriate state agency. You can then proceed to the third step.

    • 2

      Establish who the inheritor of the vehicle is. This will normally involve a probate order. Check your state laws on this. For example, Missouri allows the transfer of one vehicle to a surviving spouse or minor child without probate. However, the vehicle must be retitled before being sold. Other states, New York for example, have other rules on use and titling of the vehicle.

    • 3

      Clear the lien (if there is one) by paying off the loan, then obtain the title with it showing that the lien has been removed. Check with the state agency to determine what in addition to the title, certificate of death and/or probate order you need to transfer the title to the inheritor. You might need the vehicle registration, safety inspection record or picture identification of the heir. Go to the state agency and have the title transferred.

    • 4

      Sell the vehicle and transfer the title to the new owner. This is done by filling in the appropriate information on the title and giving it to the buyer. Wait until the bank has cleared the check or you have counted the money before you give the title and physical possession of the vehicle to the buyer.

Tips & Warnings

  • Save yourself time and trouble by ensuring that all the necessary documentation is available before attempting to obtain a title to the vehicle.
  • Do not assume that physical possession of the vehicle or kinship with the deceased gives you ownership of the vehicle.
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