When a loved one passes away, the executor of their Will or next of kin is responsible for handling and distributing their assets. One common asset that most estates will include is the deceased’s car. This guide will help you know what steps to take to transfer ownership of the vehicle.
Determining the beneficiary of the vehicle.
The executor of the Will will be responsible for identifying who will be the beneficiary of the car.
If the car was held in joint ownership and the second owner survives, the car will go to them. It will be the executor’s responsibility to transfer the vehicle ownership to their sole name through the relevant transport authority.
If the deceased was the sole owner of the car, the executor will need to check the Will to see if the car was specified and who would be the beneficiary. If the beneficiary has been specified, the executor will need to transfer the ownership to the beneficiary through the relevant transport authority.
What if there’s no beneficiary?
If the deceased did not mention their vehicle in their assets, the executor of the Will can either choose to sell the vehicle and distribute the cash amongst all beneficiaries, or choose to distribute the vehicle itself to one of the beneficiaries.
Contacting transport authorities to begin the car transfer process.
You will need to contact the relevant authorities before you can begin the process of transferring or selling the vehicle. The specifics may differ depending which state you reside in, however the general process is similar.
1. Contact the transport authority to inform them of the passing.
The authority will require either the death certificate, an interim death certificate or a letter from the Coroner’s court so they can verify the death. Don’t contact the transport authority until you have one of the mentioned documents ready.
2. Show the transport authority you are the executor of the Will and estate.
You will need to provide evidence showing you are the executor and authorised representative of the estate. This evidence could be a relevant section of the Will, a Grant of Probate, or Letters of Administration.
3. Complete the required forms, licensing and registration required to transfer ownership.
This could include cancelling the deceased’s drivers licence, transferring ownership of the vehicle to a beneficiary, cancelling registration and much more.
Transport authorities across Australia.
You will need to contact the relevant authority to change ownership, whether that’s for selling the vehicle or transferring to a beneficiary. Below are links to each state’s processes for vehicles and deceased estates:
- In Victoria, you will be required to contact VicRoads to begin the process of transferring the vehicle.
- In New South Wales, you will need to contact Transport for NSW to begin the process of transferring ownership of vehicles, including boats.
- In Queensland, you will need to contact the Queensland Department of Transport to begin the process of transferring ownership of the vehicle.
- In South Australia, you will need to contact Services SA to begin the process of transferring ownership of the vehicle.
- In Western Australia, you will need to contact the WA Department of Transport to begin the process of transferring ownership of the vehicle.
- In Tasmania, you will need to contact Transport Tasmania to begin the process of transferring ownership of the vehicle.
- In the ACT, you will need to contact Access Canberra to begin the process of transferring ownership of the vehicle.
- In the Northern Territory, you will need to contact the Motor Vehicle Registry to begin the process of transferring ownership of the vehicle. You can find out more here.
What happens to the car if the person died without a Will?
If the deceased passed away without a Will in place, also known as dying intestate, there are small differences to the process.
Depending on your circumstances, your entire estate will go to your next of kin. Your next of kin follows a hierarchy, so for example, if you do not have a spouse or children, your estate will go to your surviving parents. If they are deceased, it will go to the next in line. The hierarchy follows:
- Your spouse and/or children.
- Your children if you do not have a spouse, who are entitled to equal shares of the estate.
- Surviving parents.
- Any surviving siblings are entitled to equal shares of the estate.
- Surviving grandparents.
- Uncles and aunts.
The administrator of the estate will need to execute the estate in accordance with laws of intestacy. They will have the option of transferring the vehicle to the named beneficiary, or selling the vehicle and the cash will go to the beneficiary.
Final thoughts on what happens to a deceased person’s vehicle.
To ensure your Will and estate are simple to distribute, it’s best to be specific when nominating beneficiaries and assets, e.g. I leave John the vehicle in my name. You don’t need to specify car make and model, as this may lead to excessive changes to the Will if you upgrade or change cars.
It’s never too late to write your Will. Having a legal valid Will in place is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your loved ones are looked after in case of your passing.
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