After a house, a car may be one of the most expensive items a person owns. Given this, how vehicles are handled during probate may become an important issue for an executor or beneficiary of an estate.

What Is Probate?

Before understanding how vehicles are handled during probate, it’s helpful to understand exactly what probate entails. Probate is a legal process in which a court oversees the distribution of the deceased assets and the payment of the deceased’s debts, under the terms of the will if one exists.

Not all assets have to go through probate, but many do. A vehicle that was solely owned by the deceased will often go through probate. How a vehicle is transferred to a beneficiary will depend on whether the beneficiary is named on the title and what the relevant state laws say about vehicle transfer.

Vehicles with Survivorship

To simplify matters, a person can add another name to their vehicle’s title using the concept of survivorship.

For example, new titles in Oregon have a spot labeled “survivor.” If this spot is marked with either Y/N or Y/Y, the vehicle has survivorship. Upon the death of the owner, if at least one owner is staying on the vehicle, the title can be transferred by taking the following documents to the Oregon DMV:

  • The Application for Title and Registration, which can be completed online
  • The Oregon title, if it is available
  • Proof of death
  • An odometer disclosure, if one is required
  • The original releases or bills of sale from previous owners, except for the deceased owner
  • The original lien releases from previous security interest holders
  • The title fee

Vehicles without Survivorship

If a vehicle does not have survivorship, transferring the title may be somewhat more complicated. According to the Oregon DMV, you will need one of the following in addition to other requirements:

  • If the estate is not probated, you’ll need a notarized inheritance affidavit that has been completed by all heirs.
  • If the estate is in probate, you’ll need a copy of the court-issued Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or other documents appointing the representative of the estate along with an original release of bill or sale from the representative.
  • If probate is closed, you’ll need a copy of the court-issued Decree of Final Distribution, which must show who was awarded the vehicle.

Avoiding Problems During Probate

When a person dies without a will, or when the will is not current or clear, disputes can arise over what should happen to the estate. For example, various heirs may fight over who is entitled to a vehicle.

These problems can be avoided through proper estate planning. Including survivorship on a title can help matters. Having a will that clearly declares which assets should be distributed to which beneficiaries is also important. These documents should be up-to-date and consistent.

Need to get your estate in order? Schedule a consultation with Skinner Law.


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