The Saturday Trust: Selling A Vehicle

Consult this handy checklist when you sell an inherited vehicle


Sold to a neighbor who turned out to be a bad guy 

Seller's Punchlist

Short & sweet, here are a few important things you need to do when you inherit a vehicle and want to sell it.


  • Check your state's DMV website and follow the instructions for transferring a title
  • Check the DMV's recommendations under Inheritance of a Vehicle
  • Remove the plates and surrender them immediately to the DMV.  This prevents the buyer from driving the vehicle before he or she has re-registered it.  How then, does the new owner drive the car to the DMV to get it re-registered?  He or she does not need to drive the vehicle to the DMV to re-register the car.  All they need is the signed-over title, proof of insurance, a smog certificate, and whatever other forms the DMV requires.  
  • Be sure to keep a dated receipt or a bill of sale.  Name the buyer and have him or her sign it.  Include the name of the seller on the receipt.  Specify the amount and the form of payment, i.e. check # or cash.
          Click HERE to download a Bill of Sale document from the Nevada DMV.
  • If the title was not pre-signed by the deceased, sign the title over as successor trustee or executor.  Make sure that the vehicle is designated as an asset of the estate and that you have the authority to sign over the vehicle.  Check with your local DMV to find out if you have to claim the vehicle as your own before you sell it.  This can add at least 40 days or more to your timeline before you can sell the car.  
  • Have the buyer sign and date the title.
  • Let the DMV know immediately that you have sold the car.  This can be done online by filling out either a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form in California or a Vehicle Resale Notification in Nevada.  In California, the DMV must be notified within 5 days after a car has been sold.   Be aware that your name may not be removed from California DMV records until the new owner submits the title for transfer of ownership.  In Nevada, the new owner has 30 days to re-register the vehicle.
  • Don't cancel the auto insurance before you've surrendered the plates and notified the DMV.  Once the DMV knows that you no longer own the vehicle, go ahead and cancel the policy.
  • Last, but not least...After a loved one dies, it is easy to rush through the important aspects of his or her personal affairs.  When you transact any financial business, do it in a calm, unhurried manner.  If you are distracted or fatigued, delegate the car sale to a trusted and reliable individual who is aware of everything that they need to do in order to complete the legal sale and protect the interests of the estate.  Paper rules when it comes to car sales, so make sure that everything is done properly.




Transfer on Death Beneficiary

Both Nevada and California allow the sole registered owner of a vehicle to bypass the will process and designate an heir who will receive the vehicle after the owner dies.   There is a fee to add, delete or change the beneficiary, and only one beneficiary can be named.   This simplifies and streamlines the process of re-registering a vehicle when it is inherited. The beneficiary keeps a copy and takes it to the DMV to transfer the vehicle into his or her name.

Click HERE to view the Nevada DMV Transfer on Death Application

Lessons Learned

I wish I'd had a list like this when my dad passed away last November.  I made the mistake of trusting the buyer who did not re-register the car.

Never trust the buyer to do the right thing.

Don't assume that the procedures for selling a car are the same in every state.  Nevada requires sellers to remove the plates.  California does not.  Check the DMV website in the state where the car is registered.  

Insurance companies do not automatically contact the DMV when the insurance policy is canceled on a vehicle.

CYA—Assume that the buyer might turn out to be a bad guy or just a well-intentioned ignoramus. Cover Your Ass.

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