If my father passed away and I want to put his car in my name, do I need to go through his estate?

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If my father passed away and I want to put his car in my name, do I need to go through his estate?

And if I do, can they take the car to pay his outstanding medical bills?

Asked on August 18, 2015 under Estate Planning, New Jersey

Answers:

Gregory Abbott / Consumer Law Northwest

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

If you are already on the Title as a co-owner or if your State's licensing authority offers a ownership transfer on death and your father listed it as going to you, you may not have to go through the probate process.  If your father had a will leaving everything to you, or you are his sole surviving relative, there may or may not be ways to avoiding the probate or it may be, depending upon the rest of your father's property and estate, it may qualify for a small estate proceeding which is essentially an abbreviated form of probate.  But absent the above, it is likely that you cannot just put the car in your name.  Who says it goes to you?  Where is your authority to do ANYTHING with your father's property or estate?  Normally, only a court appointed Personal Representative or Executor has the legal authority to do anything with the deceased's property - not spouse's, family members, or anyone else.  Note I said court appointed Personal Representative or Executor - just being listed as such in a Will does not give that person any authority at all unless and until a court officially appoints them.  Being listed as such in a Will is essentially just a recommendation by the deceased to the court as to who they recommend the court appoint to handle the wind up of their affairs.  And yes, IF the car is property of your father's estate (rather than automatically transferring to you or someone else because they are already on the Title or some other way), then all your father's bills have to be paid in full before you or anyone else gets anything from his estate.  You don't get to be enriched while his legitimate creditors get stiffed or, put differently, the heirs and devisees only get what is left after all the bills have been paid.


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