In you’re in charge of disposing of the assets of someone who has died, selling her car isn’t complicated. To carry out the task, you’ll need to be the executor of the estate. As executor, you have the authority to run an ad, set a selling price, collect the money and sign over the title for the car. State laws vary slightly as to how to handle the title exchange with the buyer, but your state’s department of motor vehicles can help you make a smooth transaction. If you’ve sold a car before, selling a deceased person’s car won’t require much extra effort on your part.
Before you sell your late uncle’s Rambler or your deceased sister’s Sienna, you need to establish your authority to handle the transaction. When you become the executor of an estate, the probate court will issue Letters Testamentary, which give you the authority to act on behalf of the estate. Obtain several copies of these letters, as well as copies of the death certificate. If anyone questions whether you are acting with proper authority, show them these papers.
It isn’t necessary to change the title on the car when you take on the task of selling it for the estate. When the time comes to sell the car, in most states you don’t even have to visit the title office. When you find a buyer and agree to the price, simply signing your name on the back of the title as you would if the car were your own, followed by “executor (or executrix) for the estate of…” and fill in the name of the deceased. The buyer will take this title when he registers the car and the state will issue a new title in his name.
If the car has a lien, you’ll need to pay off the note and obtain a clear title before you can sell the car. In this case, you’ll contact the bank or finance company that carries the note. Identify yourself as the executor of the estate and verify the amount needed to pay off the note. Obtain the funds from the estate and remit payment, along with a copy of the death certificate and the letters testamentary. The finance company will issue a clear title, made out to the estate. You then proceed as you would for any other car sale. If you need the proceeds of the sale of the car to pay off the loan, ask your buyer to meet you at the bank of finance company. You can pay off the note right there and obtain a release of lien at the same time.
Cancel any insurance on the car. When you contact the insurance company, it will probably ask for a copy of the death certificate and letters testamentary. If the car is financed, it might also require a letter from the finance company releasing the lien before it will cancel insurance. If the estate is due a refund for any unused premiums, the insurance company will issue a refund made out to "The Estate of …" and the name of the deceased. As executor, you can deposit this check in a bank account for the estate.
- “How to Settle An Estate;” Charles K. Plotnick and Stephan R. Leimberg (pp95-96)
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.