Vehicles and the Probate Process in New Jersey

For some, a car can be one of the more expensive and important assets in their estate other than a house.  When drafting your Will and contemplating the probate process, it is good to know your options when it comes to vehicles you own.

A car is considered personal property and will normally need to go through the probate process in order to be transferred to the person named in the Will. However, if you are leasing a car, it is not technically considered your property as you don’t own it. Lease vehicles must either be bought out or returned to the leasing company.  Similarly, if you still have loan payments left on the car, those will need to be paid before the car can be transferred to a new owner. If you own your car outright, there are ways to avoid the probate process.

If you don’t drive the car anymore, you can simply gift the vehicle to whoever you like so as to transfer ownership prior to your passing. That is the simplest option, but should only be done if you do not need the car anymore.

If you still need access to the vehicle, another simple option is to own the vehicle jointly with the person you wish to have it once you pass away. This is normally between spouses, but vehicles can be owned jointly by anyone.  Then, when you die, the surviving joint owner will automatically gain sole ownership over the vehicle.

Even if your vehicle must pass through the probate process in New Jersey, it is relatively painless.  After an executor or administrator is appointed, they can simply go to the Motor Vehicle Commission with the car title, death certificate, and short certificates from the Surrogate in order to transfer ownership.

If you have any specific questions regarding estate planning or the probate process in New Jersey, please reach out to Ward, Shindle & Hall.