When Someone Passes Away, What Happens to Their Vehicle?

When Someone Passes Away, What Happens to Their Vehicle?

Losing a loved one is a challenging time, and it often comes with a multitude of decisions that need to be made. Among them is the question of what to do with the deceased person's vehicle(s). Families and beneficiaries find themselves at a crossroads, needing to determine whether to sell the vehicle or transfer it to another driver, either through a sale or as a gift.

At Funera.Sydney, we understand the complexities that arise during such times. To assist you, we've prepared this 8-step guide to provide a general overview of what typically occurs with a person's vehicle after they've passed away. It's important to note that we strongly advise against anyone driving a deceased person's vehicle until it has been legally transferred to a new owner and properly insured. This precaution is taken to protect both the estate and the driver from potential liabilities in the event of an accident.

1. Determining Vehicle Ownership
The first step in this process is to determine who legally owns the vehicle. Upon a person's demise, the executor of their will or an estate administrator assumes ownership of the deceased's estate and handles its distribution. Therefore, before deciding what to do with a deceased person's vehicle, the individual responsible for the estate must establish who holds ownership rights to the vehicle.

If the deceased person shared vehicle ownership with a surviving joint owner, typically a spouse or partner, who is not already a registered owner, the ownership can be transferred solely to the surviving joint owner through the relevant state or territory road authority (explained further in point 6 below).

However, in cases where no surviving joint owner exists, the executor of the will or estate administrator must determine the vehicle's intended recipient. If a will exists, it should be checked for any specific instructions regarding the distribution of the vehicle and other assets, which should be followed in accordance with the law, similar to other bequests or requests made in the will.

If the will does not mention any vehicles or if there is no will, the vehicles become part of the residuary estate, and it becomes the responsibility of you and the beneficiaries to decide how to handle them.

2. Agreement on Vehicle Distribution
If the will does not provide clear guidance on the disposition of the deceased person's vehicle(s), or if there is no will at all, a decision must be made whether to transfer the vehicle(s) to a beneficiary or family member or to sell them, with the proceeds distributed among the beneficiaries of the residuary estate.

3. Vehicle Maintenance
Regardless of whether a vehicle is being transferred or sold, it's essential to assess if any maintenance is required to potentially increase its resale value or overall valuation. If it makes financial sense, arrange for necessary maintenance before the sale or valuation.

4. Continuation of Insurance, Registration, and Toll Accounts
Even if a surviving spouse or dependent plans to use the vehicle, it's advisable to maintain vehicle insurance coverage to ensure peace of mind until the vehicle is either transferred to a beneficiary or sold. Registration fees may need to be kept up-to-date if the vehicle is inherited or sold. Additionally, check if the vehicle had a road toll account associated with it for toll road usage, and ensure that any associated fees continue to be paid.

Keep an eye out for registration invoices from the state transport department, as they may indicate any outstanding fines or unneeded driver's license renewals.

5. Vehicle Valuation and Sales Arrangements
Whether a vehicle is being transferred or sold, it is essential to obtain a valuation for tax and Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration) purposes. We recommend obtaining three independent dealership valuations and calculating the average price, or you can opt to pay an independent specialist for a valuation.

If the decision is made to sell the vehicle, make the necessary arrangements promptly.

6. Vehicle Registration Transfer
Depending on the vehicle's intended ownership, there are several options:

If the Deceased Person's Vehicle Is Registered:

If the vehicle is currently registered, you can either transfer the vehicle registration to another owner or cancel the registration through the road department in your respective state or territory, such as VicRoads or the New South Wales: Service NSW.

You will need to surrender the registration plates. If the vehicle has custom number plates, decide whether to transfer or retain them. In some states or territories, you may be eligible for a refund, which will be directed to the deceased person's estate.

In some cases, you may also be eligible for a refund of the remaining portion of paid license fees. If approved, this refund will be directed to the deceased's estate.

If the Deceased Person's Vehicle Is Unregistered:

If the vehicle belonging to the deceased is unregistered, you have the option to register it in the name of a new owner. If the vehicle is being transferred to a spouse's name, you only need to complete a simple transfer form. If it is being bequeathed, you'll need to fill out a vehicle sale form, even if it's a gift.

For more information, please refer to the transport authority in your respective state or territory:
  • Victoria: VicRoads
  • New South Wales: Service NSW
  • Canberra: Access Canberra
  • Queensland: Transport and Main Roads
  • South Australia: Services SA
  • Western Australia: Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS)
  • Tasmania: Transport Tasmania
  • Northern Territory: Motor Vehicle Registration
7. License Cancellation
Notify the road department in your state or territory that the individual has passed away and that you are the authorized representative of the estate. You can typically do this by mail or in person. You will need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate and grant of probate. In some cases, only a sighting of the original or certified copy is necessary when done in person. Additionally, provide your identification.

Any driver's licenses, learner permits, or marine licenses held by the deceased must be cancelled through the relevant state's road department. Each state and territory has slightly different procedures, so consult the transport authority in your respective state for guidance.

In most cases, license cancellation can be completed by submitting a cancellation and refund request along with a certified copy of the death certificate. However, some states may require you to visit a service centre in person to process this request, especially when you are also handling registration transfer or cancellation and the return of number plates for vehicles that won't be used. If vehicles were solely registered under the deceased, you will need to visit a transport service centre in person to return the registration plates.

8. Closure of Road Toll Accounts
Once the estate is finalized (the vehicle is sold or transferred), if the deceased had a toll road account or if you need to transfer the account to a spouse or surviving partner, you can handle this at a transport service centre in your state. Note that the account can usually only be transferred to a spouse or partner and not to another family member. Outstanding fees must be settled when closing the account, and any tags should be returned undamaged to receive a security deposit refund or avoid a non-return tag fee.

Refunds are typically issued by check to the estate within six to eight weeks after the accounts are closed. Aside from your personal ID, you'll need to provide the deceased's account details and the tag, along with a copy of the death certificate.

We hope this guide helps you navigate the process of handling a deceased person's vehicle. Funera.Sydney is here to support you during this difficult time. If you have any questions or require further assistance, please don't hesitate to contact us.

We specialize in funeral planning, prepaid funerals, and funeral services in Sydney. Our aim is to provide affordable funerals, memorial services, burial services, and cremations, ensuring that you receive compassionate and professional guidance throughout the funeral planning process. You can reach us at www.funera.sydney/contact.
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