Last updated September 2022
A common task following a person’s death is the transfer or disposal of one or more automobiles owned by the decedent. How this may be accomplished depends upon the answers to the following questions:
Question 1: How many cars did the decedent own?
Question 2: What is the fair market value of each car?
Question 3: Is the decedent survived by a spouse?
Question 4: If the decedent was not survived by a spouse, is the decedent survived by children? If there are surviving children, how old are they?
Question 5: If the decedent was not survived by a spouse or children, is there (or will there be) a probate or administration proceeding for the decedent’s estate?
If the decedent owned one car, and it is worth less than $25,000.00, the law (EPTL Section 5-3.1) vests title automatically in the surviving spouse. The Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) form MV 349.1 titled, “AFFIDAVIT FOR TRANSFER OF MOTOR VEHICLE” can be used to transfer title of the car to the surviving spouse.
The same process described above can be used if the decedent had no surviving spouse but was survived by one or more children under the age of 21 years. Form MV 349.1 can be used to transfer title of the car to the minor child or, in the alternative, to another person for the benefit of the minor child (i.e. the child’s legal guardian).
If a decedent owned one car worth less than $25,000.00 and was not survived by a spouse or minor child, the decedent’s next of kin (i.e. an adult child, grandchild, parent or sibling (in that order of priority)) would be able to use DMV form MV 349 titled, “TRANFER OF VEHICLE REGISTERED IN NAME OF DECEASED PERSON” to transfer title of the car to themselves or a third party. Form MV 349 cannot be utilized if there is, or will be, a probate or administration proceeding for the decedent’s estate.
In all cases, if the value of the decedent’s car exceeds $25,000.00 then neither form MV-349.1 nor form MV-349 can be used to transfer ownership of the car. In such a case, a probate or administration of the decedent’s estate would be required. Once appointed, the executor or administrator of the estate would be authorized to transfer title of the car to the appropriate person.
By Wayne R. Carrabus, C.P.A., Esq., at Futterman, Lanza & Pasculli, LLP with offices in Smithtown, Bay Shore and Garden City, NY, and clients throughout metro New York. He concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Medicaid Planning, Medicaid Applications, Estate Planning, Probate and Estate Administration and Estate Taxes.