Listen to Lawrence…Does a will have to be probated to gain ownership of a car?

February 23, 2021
My wife recently died.  Practically all of our assets were joint or I was named the designated beneficiary, so I figured that we avoided probate.  However, her car was in her name alone.  Do I have to probate her will over her car?
The answer may depend on whether the car is an old Honda Civic or a 2020 BMW and whether or not it is the decedent’s only car.
ONE car valued at $25,000 or less is considered an exempt asset from the probate process (will or no will) if the decedent is survived by a spouse or child under 21.  In such a case, the car passes automatically, first to the spouse and then the minor child. This property is exempt, that is, not part of the deceased person’s estate or subject to claims of creditors.  If the decedent had two cars, neither is exempt.
If there is no surviving spouse or minor child, then the nearest next of kin can essentially take or transfer the car, again without the necessity of probate or administration, subject to the same $25,000 or less requirement.
The hardest part of this process may be sitting at DMV for hours waiting for your number to appear on their big screen.   Once you go up to the window, give them a completed DMV form, the death certificate, and the title to the car. The DMV form for a spouse or minor child is MV 349.1 and for next of kin is MV 349.  JUST GOOGLE THE FORM.
If the car is valued at over $25,000.00, or if the decedent had more than one car, the car(s) must go through probate if there is a will or an administration if there is none.  Nevertheless, once an executor or administrator is appointed, the surviving spouse or minor children can obtain the car from the executor or administrator of the estate by paying to the estate the amount in excess of $25,000.00.
I hope this helps! Please forward this information to your friends and relatives to share these informative answers to some very commonly asked questions.
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