How To Transfer A Car From A Decedent To An Heir With And Without Probate In California

William Sweeney

The purpose of this article is to provide information on how to transfer a car that was owned by a decedent into the name of the rightful heir, whether it is within Probate, outside of Probate in California or in a Trust.

  1. Transferring a Car Owned by Decedent Within Probate in California:
    If a formal probate procedure has been initiated for the decedent’s estate, transferring ownership of the automobile(s) is relatively simple as the asset will need to be formally transferred just like other probate assets within the court procedure.
    After Letters have issued within a probate, the personal representative will need to file an Inventory and Appraisal documenting all assets of the probate estate. Items listed on Attachment 1 of the Inventory and Appraisal are assets which can be readily valued independently by the personal representative, such as money or cash items such as cash bank accounts. Items listed on Attachment 2 of the Inventory and Appraisal includes all assets not included in Attachment 1, namely items that cannot be immediately converted to cash on a dollar for dollar basis. This includes real property, stocks, business interests, and amongst many other things, vehicles.
    Items placed on Attachment 2 of the Inventory and Appraisal are independently appraised by a probate referee, this is to insure that the valuation of these non-cash items is neutrally assessed by a non-interested third party.
    When listing the automobile(s) on Attachment 2 of the Inventory and Appraisal, include the following information pertaining to the car in order to assist the probate referee in accurately appraising the vehicle:

    • Copy of the most recent registration.
    • Year, Make, Model and Vehicle Identification Number.
    • Mileage (or engine time).
    • Any information that would assist in valuing the property, such as insurance value, prior appraisals, sale price if recently purchased, location of vehicle, general condition, and so forth.
  2. Transferring a Car Owned by Decedent Outside of Probate in California:
    In certain situations, if the gross value of the decedent’s real and personal property in California does not exceed $150,000 (not including vehicles, vessels, commercial coaches, or manufactured, mobile, or floating homes) and if 40 days have elapsed since the death of the decedent, the decedent's heir may transfer title of a vehicle/vessel without going through probate. The calculation excludes all non-probate property, such as joint tenancy assets, trust assets, 401K’s and IRA’s, Life Insurance, Pay on Death and Transfer on Death (POD and TOD) accounts, accounts with named beneficiaries, pension accounts, death benefits, some payments if the decedent was in the armed forces, unpaid salary up to $15,000.
    The requirements for transferring a car owned by decedent outside of probate in California are:
    • A REG 5 completed by the:
      1. Person(s) who succeeded to the property of the decedent.
      2. Conservator or guardian of the property of the person(s) who succeeded to the property of the decedent.
      3. Beneficiary under the decedent's last will and testament.
      4. Trustee(s), under a trust agreement by the deceased, in which the primary beneficiaries are the next of kin.
        (A REG 5 can be obtained at: target="_blank">www.dmv.ca.gov/forms/reg/reg5.pdf.)
    • The car is titled in California. Note: Vehicles/vessels titled in another state must be transferred in that state (requirements may differ from California).
    • 40 days have lapsed since the registered or legal owner's date of death.
    • If owned jointly by two or more decedents, an original or certified copy of each owner's death certificate and a REG 5 for the most recent decedent.
    • If owned jointly by two or more persons and one is deceased, a REG 5 cannot be used to circumvent the surviving owner's interest. However, the surviving owner (if an heir) may complete a REG 5 to release the decedent's interest. The title must be signed twice, once by surviving owner and once on behalf of the decedent.
  3. Transferring a Car Owned by a Trust Outside of Probate in California:
    Establishment of a trust commits the property or assets of an individual(s) to a trustee for use or safekeeping. However, because title to cars may be easily transferred after the death of the owner without the need for probate administration, it is usually not necessary to transfer ownership of your vehicles into your names as Trustees. If a car has been transferred into a trust, if more than one trustee is shown without "or," or a slash (/) between the names, each trustee must sign the title. If the trustee signing is not shown on the title, a REG 256 (Section G) is required attesting to his/her appointment as successor trustee by the trustor or retiring trustee. A REG 256 form can be found at: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/forms/reg/reg256