Transfer of a Motor Vehicle to the Surviving Spouse

Question: My husband passed away a couple of months ago. All of our assets were held jointly except for one of our cars, which was held in his sole name. The car is worth about $20,000.00. What do I need to do to transfer the car into my name? Do I need to go to Court?

Answer: A little known but important property right for surviving family members is known as “exempt property.” Exempt property is property that passes automatically to a surviving spouse or children under the age of 21, regardless of whether the deceased person had a will or not.

For a car to be considered exempt property, it must be valued at less than $25,000.00. In your case, since the car is the only asset titled in your husband’s sole name and it is valued at only $20,000.00, there will be no need for an estate proceeding in the Surrogate’s Court to transfer title to the car.  The procedure to transfer the title and registration to you is actually quite simple and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires only one form in addition to the standard forms to change the title and registration. The required form is the MV 349.1 and it must be submitted to the DMV with an original death certificate.

Can I Transfer Vehicle Ownership Through the DMV?

If there is no surviving spouse or children under age 21, the car is valued at less than $25,000.00 and there is no executor or administrator appointed by the Surrogate’s Court then the DMV allows the nearest surviving relative to transfer the title and registration of the car. The form to accomplish the transfer is the MV 349 and it must be submitted to the DMV with an original death certificate. All of the necessary DMV forms to accomplish the transfer of the car by either the surviving spouse, children or nearest relative are available on the DMV website.

Will I Need to Go to Court to Transfer Ownership of the Car?

If the car is valued over $25,000.00, an executor or administrator must be appointed by the Surrogate’s Court to transfer the car. However, once an executor or administrator is appointed, the surviving spouse or children under age 21 may get the car from the executor or administrator of the estate by paying to the estate the amount by which the value of the motor vehicle exceeds $25,000.00.

An Elder Law Attorney Can Help

Although it may appear easy at first glance, sometimes these matters are not as simple as they may seem and it is generally a good idea to consult with an elder law attorney experienced in estate administration matters before proceeding.

By: Nancy Burner, Esq. & Kera Reed, Esq. 

Burner Law Group, P.C.

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