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DIY Estate Planning Mistake #11: Forgeting About the Car

Posted by Nina Whitehurst | Nov 15, 2019 | 0 Comments

I answer a lot of "Ask A Lawyer" questions online.  Here is one that came up recently (slightly edited for spelling and grammar):

"My mom moved from GA to NC with me.  We recently went to get a new license plate for her but we could not because the title of her car had her name and her deceased husband's name on it with no "and/or" beside the name. The plate office told us to go to the clerk of court with a will and death certificate. When we got to the clerk of court they told us we had to go to GA as the title was in GA.  However, we are a minimum of 4 hours from GA.  Is there anything else we can do switch the title without taking a long trip?"

The answer:  Hire a Georgia probate attorney to assist you.

This was the result of a failure to plan.  This is going to be way more of a hassle for this poor family than it would have been had they planned properly.

Our best advice is to add your trust as a joint tenant using the “OR” method.  This means titling the vehicle in the names of you (or the two of you) and your trust with “OR” in between the names.  With this method any owner can transfer the vehicle even if the other owner has passed away or become incapacitated, and this method allows your trust to govern the distribution of your motor vehicles if the other one or two owners become incapacitated.  Just take your title certificates to the Department of Motor Vehicles or County Clerk (whichever applies in your state) or, even better, to your nearest AAA office if you are a member.  Bring a Certification of Trust with you.  Allow the clerk to help you fill out the Application for Title.  Sometimes they want the names of the Trustees on the first line and the name of the Trust on the second line.  Sometimes they want it the other way around.  Let the clerk decide so you don't have to fill out the form twice for each vehicle.

Another method is the “TOD” (Transfer on Death) method (available in Arizona, California, and Colorado but not Alaska, Oregon or Tennessee).  You can designate a person to inherit the vehicle upon your death.  This is a very good option for single people in California and for both single and married people in Arizona and Colorado.  In California, take your certificate of title to the DMV (or AAA) and complete an Application for Title showing your name on the first line. On the second line, print “TOD” followed by the name of the person you want to inherit the vehicle.  In Arizona and Colorado there is a form to fill out.  You can find it online.  The advantages of this method are: (1) it is revocable, (b) it does not expose the vehicle to the creditors of the death beneficiary, and (c) it does not give the death beneficiary any ownership or other rights during your lifetime.

About the Author

Nina Whitehurst

Attorney at Law Nina has been practicing law for over 30 years in the areas of estate planning, real estate and business law She is currently licensed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Tennessee. Her Martindale-Hubbell attorney rating is the highest achievable: 5 stars in peer...

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