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Robbie Hoye

By: Robbie Hoye on January 26th, 2024

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How to Transfer a Vehicle After Someone Passes Away

We don’t have to tell you how difficult it can be dealing with the death of a loved one. Through grieving, planning final arrangements, and wills - how to deal with the deceased’s vehicle after their passing likely isn’t on the forefront of your mind. 

Still, transferring or re-registering vehicles after a loved one's passing is an important step to take when settling the deceased’s affairs. And believe me, having just gone through this process myself, I know how daunting it can seem. 

That’s why Berry Insurance is here to help break down this process - so you know exactly what steps you need to take to transfer your late loved one’s vehicle. 

What happens to a vehicle after the owner passes away? 

After the owner of a vehicle passes away, it becomes the job of the loved ones and beneficiaries to decide what they will do with the vehicle. Whether you decide to keep the vehicle, gift it to another family member, or sell it entirely - the process is not as simple as handing the keys off to the next driver.  

How you will need to go about transferring or re-titling the vehicle will depend on your relation to the deceased and ownership of the vehicle/title.

However, all loved ones and beneficiaries should know that in Massachusetts it is illegal to have a vehicle registered to a deceased individual - meaning you are required to re-title and cancel the original owner’s plates before you plan to operate the vehicle yourself. 

Who is responsible for transferring the car title? 

Typically, the following people will be responsible for transferring the vehicles certificate of title following the death of the owner: 

Surviving spouse:

Unless stated otherwise in the deceased’s will, the surviving spouse will be presumed to have had joint ownership of the vehicle and can keep the car if they wish. Because of this, the surviving spouse will not need to cancel registration of the vehicle and can transfer the car without involving the probate court. 

If the surviving spouse wishes to transfer ownership or obtain a new title for the vehicle, they will need to start by collecting the following documents for submission to the RMV: 

Once you submit these documents to your local RMV, they can finalize the new title and registration of the vehicle. 

The beneficiary of the decedent's estate:

If there is a will in place that names a beneficiary owner of the vehicle upon death of the original owner, then the process can be as simple as bringing the valid forms and identification to your local RMV. Beneficiaries will need to obtain the following to transfer the vehicle: 

  • An application for registration and title completed and signed by the owner. This must be stamped by an authorized agent of the insurance company if the vehicle is to remain registered 
  • The original title of the vehicle 
  • A copy of the original owner’s death certificate 
  • MVU - sales tax exemption form when transferring within a family 

If the deceased did not have a will in place, or did not specify who the vehicle goes to in their will, distribution of their estate becomes the responsibility of the state’s probate court. So any beneficiaries may have to wait weeks to months to find out whether they can transfer the vehicle’s title. If approved, the beneficiary can then go through the process to transfer the title - bringing a letter from the probate court and the documents listed above to their RMV. 

Anyone looking to transfer a vehicle after their loved one’s passing should be aware that they will be charged a fee for the transfer. For more information on transferring and gifting vehicles, read this article: Gifting a Car: What You Need to Know.

Who becomes responsible for a car loan after death? 

Any auto loans that remain unpaid upon the passing of the owner will become part of the deceased’s estate. It will be the job of the executor of the estate or beneficiary to pay off this loan. 

Many car loan agreements will have a death clause that outlines what the repayment process will look like if the borrower passes away. This process tends to vary depending on individual state laws as well as the specifics of the loan itself. 

Some lenders will require the car to be refinanced upon the death of the primary borrower. And if the beneficiary is not able to keep up the payments for the loan, the vehicle can be repossessed by the lender. 

Taking the next steps

While this process will still be taxing while you’re grieving, now you know how to begin the transfer and hopefully cross another task off your list. 

Following a successful vehicle transfer or re-titling, there are further steps you will want to consider - especially when it comes to updating your auto insurance policy. Depending on the circumstances of your unique situation, you may need to update your policy on any new vehicles or drivers who no longer need to be listed on your policy. If you need to remove the deceased driver from your policy, we recommend doing this after the vehicle has been re-registered under a different name (if applicable) or if the sale to a new owner is finalized. 

Speaking with your insurance agent to remove deceased drivers listed on your policy or to add a new vehicle is an important step in the process. Be sure to reach out to your trusted insurance agent or carrier to make the necessary changes to your existing policy. 

For further information on what areas of your insurance policy you should update after a loved one passes, read this comprehensive guide: Insurance Changes When a Loved One Passes.