Wills & Guardianship: 214.227.6400
9400 N. Central Expy., Ste. 1308
Dallas, Texas 75231
Dealing with the car is a more common executor task. Cars present risk and sometimes, some legwork. For the most part, however, cars are usually easy to deal with.
The executor should take immediate possession of the title to the vehicle. You will need it in order to sell or distribute the vehicle. People often keep titles with their other important papers, in a safe deposit box, or sometimes in the glove box. If you cannot locate the title, you should check to see if there is a loan or lien against the vehicle. Often times the original title will be in the possession of the company or bank financing the vehicle's purchase. If the title is lost, you can obtain a certified copy from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Simply complete TxDMV Form VTR-34, Application for Certified Copy of Title and mail the form to:
Texas Department of Motor Vehicles
1601-A Southwest Parkway
Wichita Falls, Texas 76302
You can also apply in person by going to a TxDMV office in your area.
1925 E. Beltline Rd., Ste. 100
Carrollton, Texas 75006
Fort Worth Office
2425 Gravel Dr.
Fort Worth, Texas 76118
Keep in mind that the DMV will not issue a copy of the title if there is an outstanding lien against the vehicle. If the lien has been paid but the lien is still noted on the title or in the DMV's records, send a letter to the finance company requesting that it send you a lien release letter on the company's letterhead. You can then send this letter to the DMV with your Application.
The decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to use a vehicle belonging to the estate while the estate is being administered. This is true even if the vehicles are given to another person under the terms of the will. Once the administration is complete, the vehicle can be distributed to the heirs of the estate.
If the vehicle is not set aside for the surviving spouse, the executor should collect all of the keys for the vehicles and place them under the executor's exclusive control. Furthermore, I recommend that the executor either park the vehicles in the decedent's garage or take the vehicles home to the executor's garage. This will prevent the vehicles from being stolen or damaged.
Vehicles are rolling lawsuits. Furthermore, vehicles are under constant risk of theft and/or damage, such as hail (for out-of-towners, Dallas gets severe hail on a regular basis). Therefore, it is critical that the executor maintain both liability and comprehensive insurance on the vehicles. If the decedent had a policy, the executor should check to see if the vehicle remains covered now that the decedent has passed away. If the vehicle is not covered, then new coverage should be obtained. This may be difficult because if the executor is not the beneficiary of the car, the insurance company may say the executor does not have an "insurable interest" in the vehicle. Talk to your insurance agent to see what is possible.
If the will authorizes the executor to sell the vehicle, or the beneficiaries are in agreement that the vehicle be sold, then the executor can sell the vehicle. You will need the original title or a certified copy in order to convey the vehicle. To transfer the vehicle, the executor should sign the title on the front and back, and attach a copy of the Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration. The executor should then notify the TxDMV by completing a "Form VTR-346, Vehicle Transfer Notification." The will protect the executor from liability if submitted within 30 days of the transfer.
Vehicles belonging to the estate must be listed on the Inventory, Appraisement and List of Claims. The executor can go to Kelly Blue Book (KBB.com) or NADA.com to obtain a local valuation. Autotrader is another source of comparables. CarMax will also give you an appraisal for what it would purchase the vehicle for. It is my experience that this valuation is about a third less than what you can get for the car from a private buyer. If you are an out-of-town executor looking for an easy way out, CarMax is a great option.