Is It Illegal To Drive A Car Registered To A Deceased Person?

Is It Illegal To Drive A Car Registered To A Deceased Person - What Happens If You Drive A Deceased Persons Car - How Long Can You Drive A Deceased Persons Car

I​​s it illegal to drive a car registered to a deceased person?

In this article, you’ll learn about: 

  • what happens if you drive a deceased person’s car
  • how long can you drive a deceased person’s car
  • how to transfer a car title after death of the owner 
  • whether you can sell a deceased person’s car without probate 
  • whether you can drive your dad’s car if he passes away

Let’s dig in.

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Is It Illegal To Drive A Car Registered To A Deceased Person?

Driving a car registered to a deceased person is generally illegal. 

When someone passes away, their vehicle’s registration typically becomes invalid.

It’s crucial to transfer ownership or re-register the vehicle in someone else’s name to comply with the law. 

Driving such a car can lead to legal consequences.

This may include fines or even impoundment of the vehicle. 

Read More: How Long Can You Drive A Deceased Person’s Car

What Happens If You Drive A Deceased Person's Car?

When you drive a deceased person’s car, it’s essential to follow legal procedures to avoid potential issues. 

The process typically involves transferring ownership of the vehicle to the rightful heir or beneficiary through:

Here’s what happens if you drive a deceased person’s car without properly transferring ownership:

  • Legal Issues: Operating a vehicle without legal ownership can result in legal trouble, such as fines, penalties, or even criminal charges, depending on the circumstances and local laws.
  • Insurance Problems: Insurance coverage for the car may be void if the policyholder has passed away, leaving you without protection in case of accidents or damage. You could be personally responsible for any expenses incurred.
  • Liability: If you get into an accident while driving the deceased person’s car, you might be personally liable for damages or injuries, as insurance coverage may not apply due to the ownership issues.
  • Probate Challenges: Driving the car without resolving its ownership status can complicate the probate process, delaying the distribution of the deceased person’s assets to beneficiaries.
  • Ownership Disputes: Other potential heirs or beneficiaries may dispute your right to use the vehicle, leading to legal disputes and conflicts over the deceased person’s estate.

How Long Can You Drive A Deceased Person's Car?

You’re not allowed to drive a deceased person’s car for any period of time without transferring ownership. 

There can be exceptions to the general rule of not driving a deceased person’s car without transferring ownership:

  • Probate Process: In some cases, during the probate process (the legal process of settling the deceased person’s estate), the court may grant temporary permission for someone, such as the executor or administrator of the estate, to use the deceased person’s car for estate-related matters. This permission is often granted to facilitate the sale of the vehicle or to handle other estate-related affairs.
  • Surviving Spouse or Joint Owner: If the car is jointly owned, such as by a married couple, and one of the owners passes away, the surviving spouse may have the legal right to continue using the vehicle without formally transferring ownership. Laws regarding joint ownership may vary by jurisdiction.
  • Estate Planning: In some estate planning situations, a trust may be set up that allows for the continued use of specific assets, including a car, by a designated beneficiary, even after the original owner’s death. This arrangement is typically established through legal documentation and should be executed according to the terms of the trust.
  • Temporary Use: In certain situations, a court may grant temporary use of the vehicle for specific purposes, such as transferring it to a dealership for sale or allowing it to be used by a family member for a limited time.

How To Transfer Car Title After Death Of Owner

To transfer a car title after the death of the owner, follow these steps:

  • Obtain the death certificate: Start by obtaining a copy of the deceased owner’s death certificate. This document will be required during the title transfer process.
  • Identify the legal heir or beneficiary: Determine who the legal heir or beneficiary of the vehicle is. This person will have the right to claim ownership of the car.
  • Locate the car title: Find the car’s existing title, which may be in the possession of the deceased owner, in a safe deposit box, or with their legal documents.
  • Complete the title transfer form: Fill out the appropriate title transfer form, which can typically be obtained from the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or equivalent agency. This form will require information about the deceased owner, the legal heir or beneficiary, and details about the vehicle.
  • Provide supporting documents: Along with the completed form, you may need to provide additional documents such as a copy of the will (if applicable), an affidavit of heirship, or a court order confirming the legal heir’s ownership.
  • Pay any required fees: Be prepared to pay any applicable transfer fees and taxes. The amount may vary depending on your location and the value of the vehicle.
  • Submit the paperwork: Visit your local DMV or relevant agency and submit the completed title transfer form, supporting documents, and payment of fees. They will process the transfer and issue a new title in the name of the legal heir or beneficiary.
  • Update the vehicle registration: After receiving the new title, update the vehicle’s registration with the DMV. This step ensures that the vehicle is legally registered in the name of the new owner.
  • Transfer insurance and liabilities: Contact the deceased owner’s auto insurance provider to update the policy or transfer it to the new owner’s name. Also, address any outstanding debts or liabilities associated with the vehicle.
  • Store the old title and documents: Keep the old title and all relevant documents, including the death certificate, in a safe place for future reference.

Let’s say your husband died and your name is not on the car title. 

You’ll need to follow these same steps to transfer the car title after the death of the owner

FAQs About Driving A Car Registered To A Deceased Person

Here are other questions our clients ask us about driving a deceased person’s car. 

Can You Sell A Deceased Person's Car Without Probate?

In most cases, you cannot sell a deceased person’s car without going through probate

Probate is necessary to legally transfer ownership of assets, including vehicles, from the deceased person to their heirs or beneficiaries. 

While the general rule is that you must go through the probate process to sell a deceased person’s car.

However, there are some exceptions to consider:

  • Small Estate Affidavit: Some states allow for a simplified probate process, often called a “small estate affidavit” or “summary probate,” when the value of the deceased person’s assets, including the car, is below a certain threshold. In such cases, you may be able to transfer the vehicle without a full probate proceeding.
  • Joint Ownership with Rights of Survivorship: If the car was jointly owned with another person with rights of survivorship, the surviving owner typically becomes the sole owner automatically upon the deceased person’s death. In this case, probate may not be necessary to sell the car.
  • Transfer-on-Death (TOD) or Payable-on-Death (POD) Designation: Some states allow individuals to designate beneficiaries for their vehicles by using a Transfer-on-Death (TOD) or Payable-on-Death (POD) designation on the vehicle’s title. If the deceased person had designated a beneficiary, that person can often claim ownership of the car without probate.
  • Community Property Rules: In community property states, assets acquired during a marriage are generally considered joint property. When one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse may automatically inherit the deceased spouse’s share of community property, including a car.
  • Surviving Spouse’s Right to Transfer: In some states, a surviving spouse may have the right to transfer a certain amount of the deceased spouse’s property, including a car, without going through probate.

What Happens To A Car When Someone Dies Without A Will?

When someone dies without a will, their assets will typically go through a legal process called intestate succession

In this situation, the deceased person’s property is distributed according to the laws of their state. 

Here’s what happens to a car when someone dies without a will:

  • Identifying the Heirs: The first step is to determine the legal heirs of the deceased person. This usually involves a spouse, children, parents, or other close relatives.
  • Inventory and Appraisal: The car, along with other assets, will be inventoried and appraised to establish its value.
  • Distribution: The car will be distributed among the heirs per the state’s laws of intestate succession. This distribution is typically based on familial relationships and the laws of the specific state.
  • Ownership Transfer: To transfer ownership of the car to the heirs, the relevant paperwork must be filed. This often involves updating the vehicle’s title and registration.
  • Potential Sale: If the heirs cannot agree on who should receive the car, it may be sold, and the proceeds will be divided among the heirs as per the distribution laws.
  • Debts and Expenses: Before any assets, including the car, are distributed to the heirs, the deceased person’s outstanding debts, and expenses, such as funeral costs and taxes, will be settled from the estate.

Does The DMV Know When Someone Dies?

The DMV is typically informed about a person’s death through

  • family notifications, 
  • communication with other government agencies, 
  • estate settlement processes, and 
  • involvement in probate court proceedings. 

This information is crucial for:

  • updating their records 
  • ensuring that the deceased person’s driving privileges 
  • vehicle ownership is appropriately addressed

If My Dad Passed Away Can I Drive His Car?

If your dad passed away, you typically cannot legally drive his car.

You must have specific authorization or the car must be transferred into your name through the proper legal processes before you can drive his car. 

Driving without proper authorization can lead to legal consequences.

Transfer A Deceased Person's Car To Your Name

If you have possession of a deceased person’s car, fill out the form below. 

We can get the title transferred to your name. 

This way, you’re not breaking any laws and facing:

Talk soon!

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