There are plenty of estates that do not need to go through probate. If real estate passes to intended heirs through a lady-bird deed (also called an enhanced life estate deed) or joint tenancy and if all bank / brokerage / retirement accounts all have pay on death beneficiaries in place, often the only other asset is the car or truck.
In this scenario, it seems unnecessarily expensive and burdensome to have to go in front of a probate judge just transfer title on a car after the vehicle owner dies.
Luckily, you may not need to.
How to transfer title of an automobile after car owner has passed away?
Fla. Stat. §319.28 sets for the procedure that will allow an individual to visit the DMV, hope for a reasonable clerk, and obtain title to a car after the owner has died without having to go through probate:
When the application for a certificate of title is made by an heir of a previous owner who died intestate [without a last will and testament], it shall not be necessary to accompany the application with an order of a probate court if the applicant files with the department [of motor vehicle] an affidavit that the estate is not indebted and the surviving spouse, if any, and the heirs, if any, have amicably agreed among themselves among a division of the estate.
If the previous owner died testate [with a will], the applicant shall be accompanied by a certified copy of the will, if probated, and an affidavit that the estate is solvent with sufficient assets to pay all just claims or, if the will is not being probated, by a sworn copy of the will and an affidavit that the estate is not indebted.” [emphasis and comments added by the author of this article]
Fla. Stat. §319.28(c) says that, if a surviving spouse who would be entitled to the issuance of a certificate of title under 319.28(b) wishes to dispose of the vehicle rather than retaining it for his or her own use, the surviving spouse shall not be required to obtain a certificate of title in her or her own name, but may assign to the transferee the certificate of title which was issued to the decedent [essentially utilizing the above procedure].
So, without a will, if the surviving spouse and heirs all agree who should obtain title of the deceased individual's vehicle, and the estate is not in debt, the person who will be receiving title to the car should bring an affidavit to the Department of Motor Vehicles to attest to these facts.
With a certified or sworn copy of the Last Will and Testament (depending on whether the Will is put into probate) along with an affidavit that the estate is not in debt, one can accomplish the same goal.
Dealing with the DMV presents its own set of challenges that are beyond the scope of this article, and one may find less of a hassle going through a private tag agency. But, I hope this has provided you with some answers to how to transfer title to an intended heir after a car owner's death.
Elder Law Resources
Here is a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Website that provides a link to an online wizard with further instruction on how to transfer title when the car owner is deceased.