“What happens with my car at my death?” by Attorney Alex Pagnotta
A car is an asset that many of us depend on in our daily lives to get to work, take the kids to school and run our errands. We put many efforts into caring for our vehicles, so we want our family to enjoy it after we are gone. Even if you own one car or a collection, it is important to plan so transfer will occur easily at death. Insodoing, it is a good idea to review the title of the car, if it has a lien and who will have access to it.
When sitting down to plan your estate, your car should be discussed with your estate planning attorney. There are several options in how to leave your vehicle. First, you may choose for your car to be left through a specific bequest in your Will or Trust. You may want to consider who needs a vehicle, where does the person live to whom you want to leave it, and if that individual has the ability to maintain and insure the car. Second, you may choose not to leave it specifically, but direct your Personal Representative or Trustee to sell the vehicle and distribute the proceeds to an individual or class of family members. Also, you may give discretion to your fiduciary to donate your vehicle to charity. Estate documents allow for other planning language and should be discussed with your attorney in order to help meet your specific goals.
In some cases, an owner may choose to designate a beneficiary prior to death. In Maryland, the MVA now provides a form that the registered owner on the title can select an individual to receive ownership of the vehicle upon their death. As the designation must be made prior to the death of the individual, the vehicle will not be considered part of the probate estate. Therefore, a Letter of Administration will not be necessary to present at the MVA to complete the transfer. There are certain requirements and guidelines that must be met to utilize this method and are available through agency publications.
In planning ahead, it is prudent to advise your Personal Representative or Trustee the location of your keys, or spare key. Also, it is essential to provide current information on who insures your vehicle and whether there are any liens against the vehicle, including judgments, secured notes or other outstanding legal issues. In addition, it is recommended to keep a list of all makes and models of vehicles, especially as it is common that an estate may have several vehicles.
In keeping a list with information and the location regarding the vehicles, it may assist your estate to track your assets. Also, it will help your fiduciary plan if there is an outstanding lease, loan or lien on the vehicle to avoid potential issues, unexpected repossession, or loss of value to your estate. In addition, it may help prevent unauthorized usage of your vehicle after your death and possibly cause a liability issue for the estate if there is an accident or other mishap. Your estate will usually keep the vehicle parked until proper transfer and distribution can occur.
Considering these recommendations should ease the administration of your estate and help your family enjoy the vehicles.
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