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How to Transfer a Title After a Car Owner Dies

How to Transfer a Title After a Car Owner Dies
Estate Planning and Probate
Jason Neufeld
April 28, 2020

Losing a family member is always a difficult and emotional experience, and dealing with their belongings and assets can add an extra layer of stress.

If your loved one was a car owner, you might wonder what to do with their vehicle and how to transfer the title to a new owner. The process can be complex, but it can be made easier with the right information and guidance.

Let’s explore the steps you need to take to transfer the title of a car after the owner has passed away, and provide some helpful tips from an experienced Florida elder law attorney to make the process as smooth as possible.

Do All Deceased Person’s Assets Have to Go Through Probate in Florida?

Plenty of estate assets do not need to go through the probate process. Let’s say all of the real estate of the deceased person passes to intended heirs through a joint tenancy or a lady-bird deed (also called an enhanced life estate deed). 

Also, all the bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and retirement accounts have pay-on-death beneficiaries in place. The only other asset remaining, in many cases, is the car or truck. 

In this scenario, it seems unnecessarily expensive and burdensome to go before a probate judge just for a title transfer on a car after the vehicle owner dies.

Luckily, you may not need to.

What Does Florida Law Say About Transferring Car Titles of a Deceased Person?

Fla.Stat. §319.28 sets 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].

Steps to Take After Car Owner Dies — How to Transfer Title

If a deceased person died intestate (without a will), if the surviving spouse and heirs all agree on who should obtain title of the deceased person’s car, and the estate is not in debt, the person who will receive title to the car should take the following steps:

  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 refers to the person 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 on 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 driver’s 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 charged $78.25.
  6. Mail all into the County Tax Collector's office.

What If There Is a Valid Will?

If there is a Last Will and Testament, get a certified or sworn copy (depending on whether the Will is put into probate) and an affidavit that the estate is not in debt. With these legal documents, you can accomplish the same goal of getting the title transferred.

Tag Agencies Can Help

Private tag agencies can assist with this process, albeit for a higher fee. But, I hope this has provided some answers to how to transfer title to an intended heir after a car owner's death.

Forms to Transfer Car Ownership Without a Formal Probate

Here is a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle (FDHSMV) 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 registration after the death of the original title holder.

Get Help From an Experienced Florida Elder Law Attorney

Navigating the process of transferring a car title after the owner has passed away can seem daunting, but it's a necessary step in settling their estate. By following the steps outlined here and seeking guidance from an elder law attorney, you can ensure that the legal process is completed properly and efficiently.

Remember to gather all necessary documents, notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of the change in ownership, and transfer the title to the new owner as soon as possible. Contact our team today, and you can make this difficult task manageable.

Jason Neufeld

Jason Neufeld is the Founder and Managing Partner of Elder Needs Law, a Florida estate planning and elder law firm he created in 2017. With more than 15 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including Medicaid planning, estate planning, elder law, probate, Medicare, and life insurance.

Jason received his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami — School of Law and is a member of the Florida Bar and the Broward County Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named a Rising Star and Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers and among the Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend in 2024.

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