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What To Do With A Decedent’s Vehicle

A frequently asked question in estate administration is what to do with the decedent’s vehicle. This articles provides helpful tips and steps to take to change the title to reflect new ownership.

As a cautionary measure, it is advisable to cancel the decedent’s driver’s license or identification card to prevent misuse for fraudulent purposes. Any disabled placard and license plates should be returned to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).

For transfer of title, different steps are involved depending on whether the vehicle will be transferred to the surviving spouse, surviving owner, someone who inherits the vehicle, or a third party who purchases it from the estate.

Surviving Spouse
In Massachusetts, pursuant to M.G.L. c. 90D s. 15A, a decedent’s vehicle is presumed to have been owned jointly with the surviving spouse, unless the decedent’s will provides otherwise. If the surviving spouse desires to keep their deceased spouse’s vehicle, he or she must go to the RMV and submit the following documents:

• a copy of the death certificate showing the surviving spouse’s name;
• an RMV-1 Application Form stamped by the insurance agent;
• an Affidavit of Surviving Spouse; and
• the original Title signed by the surviving spouse.

The surviving spouse can keep the same license plates at no charge.

If the surviving spouse is selling the vehicle, the surviving spouse needs to go to the RMV and submit the following documents:

• a copy of the death certificate showing the surviving spouse’s name;
• an Affidavit of Surviving Spouse; and
• the original car title signed by the surviving spouse.

Non-spouse Surviving Owner
To transfer the title of the vehicle into the name of the surviving owner, go to the RMV and submit the following documents with applicable fees:

• a copy of the death certificate; and
• the original title.

A new title and registration will be issued in the surviving owner’s name.

Inheritance or Sale by Personal Representative of the Estate
If the vehicle passes to someone under the decedent’s will, or under the law of intestacy, or the vehicle is being sold by the estate, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate needs to present the transferee with the following documents:

• a copy of a decree from the probate court appointing the personal representative or a copy of letters of voluntary statement;
• a copy of the death certificate;
• the original car title signed by the personal representative; and
• a bill of sale, stating the terms of the transaction, including the vehicle’s VIN and mileage, signed by the personal representative and the transferee.

The personal representative of the estate needs to ensure that the decedent’s registration plates are returned to the RMV for cancellation. The new owner will need to obtain an auto insurance policy on the vehicle and submit proof of insurance to register the vehicle in Massachusetts. It is the new owner’s responsibility to obtain an RMV-1 from the insurance company that is issuing a new auto insurance policy and to pay the requisite RMV fees for a new title.