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Death and Titles: How to Obtain Ownership of a Deceased Person’s Car

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DMV vehicle registration car title renewal license paperwork Obtain Ownership of a Deceased Person’s Car

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Just because you’re in possession of your family member’s vehicle doesn’t mean you automatically own it. Your name isn’t on the title nor is it registered in your name.

To make this happen, the owner of the vehicle has to sign it over to you, the new owner. There are a couple ways you can do this.

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To obtain ownership of a deceased person’s car, check the title

If the current title on file is a newer version, it has a line on it designating the beneficiary. If you’re the beneficiary, bring the title and a copy of the death certificate to the DMV title office and they’ll have you fill out a new title in your name with your own beneficiary listed. Then, just register it in your name.

If someone else is specified as the beneficiary on the title who isn’t you, that person has the right to the car and you have to make arrangement with him/her to transfer ownership. If the named beneficiary is also deceased and the title was never updated, you’ll need to show a death certificate for that person, too.

Old titles don’t have a field that specifies a beneficiary, so transferring isn’t so simple.

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No beneficiary on the title and other complications

If there is no beneficiary listed on the title, have the current owner sign over the vehicle to you. If the bequeathing owner is still alive, they can fill out the back of the title to gift or sell it to you (depending on your relation). Either both parties need to be present at the DMV or the title form needs to be notarized.

If the title can’t be located at the time but the owner is still alive, they can fill out a motor vehicle power of attorney form to let you obtain a certificate of title. This also needs to be notarized.

If the owner has deceased and you don’t have any official paperwork proving your right to acquire the vehicle, you’ll have to prove ownership rights in court. You’ll need a copy of the will that bequeaths the car (or the inclusion of the car in the estate) to you and go through probate. It’s a lot of work and could involve a lawyer and additional documents like letters of administration. That’s not to mention the trouble that an existing lien on the car or a challenge of ownership could bring.

If at all possible, have the transfer made or documented thorough when the owner is still alive. If will save you a lot of time, frustration, and extra work.

Sources:, Vermont DMV