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After Car Owner Dies - How to Transfer Title

Estate Planning and Probate
Jason Neufeld
April 28, 2020

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 a surviving spouse or heir to obtain title to a car after the owner has died without having to go through probate: 

§319.28(b) says:

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:

  1. Fill out and sign the appropriate Application for Certificate of Title (links to forms below). As a helpful note, on form HSMV-82040, in Section 1, when it asks for the "Owner's Name" and "Owner's Address" it is referring to the person who is receiving the new title. In other words, don't put in the name of the original car owner who passed away. The deceased's information will be on the death certificate. The rest of the form 82040 is fairly self-explanatory (VIN number, year/make/model of vehicle, title number, license plate, etc....). The bottom of the second page requires the name and signature of ALL SURVIVING HEIRS (if there is no Will) attesting that they all agree who should receive the new title to the car.
  2. Get an Original Certificate of Title for the automobile in question (if it is lost or destroyed, there is a box to check)
  3. Get a copy of the drivers license for the person who will receive the new title.
  4. Get a signed affidavit pursuant to Fla Stat 319.28, described above.
  5. Figure out the County Tax Collector's fee (where the vehicle is currently registered). For example, in 2019, the Broward County Tax Collector charges $78.25.
  6. Mail all in to the County Tax Collector's office.

If there is a Last Will and Testament get a certified or sworn copy (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.

Private tag agencies can assist with this process as well, albeit for a higher fee. 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.

Transfer Vehicle Ownership without a Formal Probate Forms

Here is a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle Form that allows a surviving spouse to apply for the transfer of title from a deceased spouse.

Another FDHSMV form for the transfer of title with or without a registration after the death of original title holder.

Jason Neufeld
Jason is committed to assisting and protecting the most vulnerable members of society, through his substantial legal work with the elderly.