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How to Sell a Car of a Deceased Person in California

How to Sell a Car of a Deceased Person in California

Losing a loved one is an emotional and challenging experience, and dealing with the practical matters of their estate can add further stress. When it comes to selling a car owned by a deceased person in California, there are specific steps and legal requirements that must be followed. This article aims to guide you through the process and provide answers to frequently asked questions.

Step 1: Establish Your Authority
Before you can sell a car owned by a deceased person, you need to determine your legal authority to act on behalf of the deceased. If the deceased left a will, the executor named in the will is usually the person responsible for handling the estate. If there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator to manage the estate.

Step 2: Gather the Required Documents
To sell a car in California, you will need the following documents:

1. Certificate of Title: The original title of the vehicle must be obtained from the deceased’s estate. If the title is missing, you will need to apply for a duplicate title from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

2. Death Certificate: A certified copy of the death certificate is necessary to prove the deceased’s passing.

3. Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration: If you are the executor or administrator of the estate, these documents from the court grant you the legal authority to sell the car.

Step 3: Transfer Ownership
To transfer ownership of the vehicle to the buyer, follow these steps:

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1. Complete the Transfer of Title: Fill out the appropriate sections on the back of the title, including the new owner’s name and address. Both the seller and buyer must sign the document.

2. Release of Liability: File a Release of Liability form with the DMV to inform them that you are no longer responsible for the vehicle.

3. Pay Outstanding Fees: Ensure that all outstanding fees, such as registration and parking tickets, are settled before transferring ownership.

Step 4: Selling the Car
Once you have gathered the necessary documents and completed the transfer of ownership, you can proceed with selling the vehicle. Here are a few options:

1. Private Sale: Advertise the car online or through local classifieds to attract potential buyers. Provide accurate information about the vehicle’s condition and history.

2. Dealer Trade-In: If you prefer a hassle-free option, consider trading in the car at a dealership. This may result in a lower price compared to a private sale, but it can save you time and effort.

3. Auction: Another option is to sell the car through an auction. This can be a good choice if the vehicle is unique or has high value.


Q: Can I sell the car before probate is completed?
A: It is generally advisable to wait until the probate process is completed before selling the car. However, if the estate does not owe any debts or taxes, you may be allowed to sell the vehicle with the court’s permission.

Q: What if the car has multiple owners?
A: If the car is jointly owned, the surviving owner can apply for a new title in their name. If the deceased was the sole owner, the vehicle must go through the probate process before it can be sold.

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Q: Can I use the deceased person’s license plates?
A: No, you cannot use the deceased person’s license plates. Remove the plates from the vehicle and either destroy them or return them to the DMV.

Q: How long do I have to transfer the title after the owner’s death?
A: In California, you have 30 days from the date of death to transfer the title of the vehicle.

Q: Can I sell the car if there is a loan on it?
A: If the deceased person had a loan on the vehicle, it must be paid off before you can sell it. Contact the lender to discuss the necessary steps to settle the loan.

Selling a car of a deceased person in California requires careful attention to legal obligations and paperwork. By following the outlined steps and seeking legal advice if necessary, you can navigate this process with minimal complications. Remember to prioritize your emotional well-being throughout this challenging time.

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