Articles & Tips

How to Sell a Car if the Owner is Deceased

How to Sell a Car if the Owner is Deceased

If you need to sell a car of an owner who is deceased, you need to know something about the laws in the jurisdiction that you are in. This will help you determine what happens to the vehicle once the death occurs and also determine who holds title to the vehicle. If you wish to sell a car of a deceased owner, you need to have lawful title of the vehicle. 

The Vehicle Will Pass into the Estate

In most circumstances the vehicle will pass into the estate of the deceased owner to be distributed among it rightful heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. A will, trust or other legal document will set forth how property is distributed within the estate. This is the first place you should look to determine whether or not you can claim legal title over the deceased person’s car in order to sell it.

Dying Intestate

If the car owner dies without leaving behind a will, this is known as dying intestate. What happens in this circumstance is that the state probates the estate of the deceased person in order to determine who the living heirs are as well as any debts and liabilities that must be met or discharged. The process of probating an estate can take years for a person who dies without a will. This may make it next to impossible to sell the car.

Gaining Understanding Among the Heirs

If there is a general understanding among the living heirs of the deceased car owner for you to take possession of the car, you may be able to sell it immediately. This agreement may be predicated, however, on the having the proceeds of the sale distributed equally among the heirs once the sale is completed.

Working with the Trustee

An attorney acting as conservator or trustee for the estate may also be able to intercede on your behalf and assist you in the sale of the deceased person’s car. This may be based on the trustee’s interest in settling the estate, or a portion of the estate in order to settle some debt or tax liability.

State and Federal Estate Tax Liabilities

With respect to any tax liabilities, the IRS may also have an interest in having the vehicle sold in order to levy an estate tax based on the value of the estate. If the estate has a value of several millions of dollars, based on state and federal estate tax laws at the time, this may result in a tax liability of 45 to 55 percent of the estate’s value.

If you wish to sell the car of a close friend, relative or other family member, it is important to either consult with an attorney or obtain information relative to the laws of the state in which you reside and the deceased persons car is in. This understanding will save you from any potential grief and other problems that may occur during this transaction.