Transferring Cars After Death in California

2007 Infiniti M45Transferring cars, boats and other vehicles after death is really easy in California. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has some very simple forms to use. In most cases you do not need a probate lawyer and can do it yourself.

I am updating this page on April 8, 2020.  Interestingly the law changed as of January 1, 2020 but as of April 8, 2020 the DMV website still talks about $150,000 in assets. The law was changed to $166,250. Here’s a link to that DMV webpage.

There are a few different types of transfers to consider after death:

1) the most common is the transfer without probate.  The California DMV has a form, aptly titled “Affidavit for transfer without probate.” Here is a link to that form.  This transfers the vehicle to the next of kin, or beneficiary in the will, and then that person can sell it or whatever they want to do.

2) the second most common way to transfer a vehicle after death is in a probate. In that case the Executor, or Administrator, of the estate will sign the pink slip (title paper) by actually signing the decedent’s name and then writing, “by ______ Executor.”  The executor just writes their actual name in where the blank line is.  The executor should give the buyer a copy of Letters Testamentary also.  The buyer can then register the car at the DMV. Of course the money from the sale should go into the estate bank account. There is not a set DMV “form” for this as there is for transferring without probate.  Lately, I have seen DMV employees asking for a copy of the death certificate but I find nowhere in the DMV rules that actually require this. So pro tip is to consider giving a copy of the death certificate with the social security number redacted when you transfer a vehicle like this.

3) transfer by trustee is the third way. That is, for the minority of people who hold title in their trust the successor trustee can sell or transfer the car.

Always remember to file the release of liability form when you sell or transfer a car!

In all cases it’s a good idea to review things with an experienced California probate attorney to make sure you do things properly. There can be penalties for people that do the transfer of cars incorrectly.

Remember start with the free forms on the California DMV website.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give me a call at 916-920-5983 today or email, fax, text, skype, Zoom, or whatever works best for you!

-John Palley

P.S. Yes, this is my car. My favorite car ever!  A 2007 Infiniti M45 that I bought in 2010.  Yes, it has the big V8 engine.  I still have it as of 2020 and it’s going strong! These pictures are from when I bought it but it still looks pretty good… though not quite as good now with 100,000+ miles o

Peanut butter brown leather

n the odomoter.


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