Is the car going through probate?
I have to admit I am almost always nervous to ask if there is a car as part of an estate. Cars can be a neglected aspect of estate planning because people often get a new car after they have updated their estate plan. Cars can have a short cycle of ownership. People often don’t plan for cars because they make assumptions about how cars can be transferred.
If a married person dies owning vehicles titled in the decedent’s name alone, some of those vehicles may be able to be transferred to the surviving spouse without a probate administration. Under Ohio law, a surviving spouse can transfer an unlimited amount of vehicles to themselves up to a combined value of $65,000. Let’s clarify this a little further though. This is only for vehicles that have their own source of power. Trailers and tow behind campers are not included. The campers and trailers would have to be transferred through probate, even to a surviving spouse. Also, this option is only for a surviving spouse. If the person who died was unmarried, the vehicle will have to be transferred through the probate court.
How do you avoid all of this? There are a few options. You go to the county clerk of court’s title office and add a transfer on death beneficiary for a car, boat, camper, etc. If it has an actual title issued by the State of Ohio, you can add a transfer on death (TOD) to that title. The deputy clerk at the title office must do this for you. It’s not something that just gets written on the back of the title. It must be in the state’s system. You bring in your vehicle title which has the owner’s name, for example, as “JAMES SMITH.” The clerk will print a new title for you that has the owner’s name as “JAMES SMITH TOD JOHNNY SMITH.” The person whose name appears after the TOD has no rights until the owner has died. The owner can also revoke a TOD designation if the owner changes their mind. This TOD avoids probate and it’s a great way to easily transfer vehicles.