A clerk in the Probate office told me that probating a car was a different process than other probates. How so?
If the vehicle was the only car the decedent (person who passed way) used for personal use, then the vehicle is exempt from probate per Florida Statutes. If there is more than one vehicle, then one vehicle will be exempt and the other would go through probate. I would recommend having an attorney handle a probate where the decedent had numerous assets in their estate.
To reduce complications of a vehicle that is exempt from probate, have all the heirs sign a waiver (assuming their is more than one heir), relinquishing the car to just one of the heirs with the understanding that the proceeds from the car be split. Bring a certified copy of the death certificate along with the signed waiver(s) to DMV to transfer the title to the vehicle. Once the title is transferred, then the vehicle can be sold and proceeds split as agreed.
Normally, when someone passes away, their estate and all the assets they held during their life and upon their passing must be probated before the clerk of court. This means that the Executor named in their will must apply for acknowledgement of appointment by the clerk of court, account to the clerk for all of the assets in the decedent's name when the decedent passed away, pay all debts and taxes of the decedent, and finally distribute the decedent's remaining assets according to the decedent's will (or the state's intestacy statute if the decedent did not have a will).
Above is the normal, often drawn-out and costly, process of a full-blown probate of a decedent's estate. However, if the decedent passed away while only owning an automobile, then normally the Executor named under the decedent's will (or next of kin if no will exists) may go to the courthouse and prove to the clerk of court that the decedent passed away (death certificate) when only owning an automobile (title) and that whomever is the appropriate owner of the car at this time (based upon the terms of the will or the intestacy statute provisions). Upon verification, the clerk of court will sign an order transferring the automobile to the appropriate beneficiary and the Executor can then take that form to the DMV for title to the automobile to be transferred to the new beneficiary.
Indeed, a car does not require a full probate if that is the only asset. Most states have a small estates process for these circumstances. Still others have a non-probate process at the DMV to allow transfer of title of a vehicle by affidavit essentially. The beneficiary may acquire legal ownership of motor vehicles by furnishing the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles with the required transfer forms.
Under Florida statute, where an estate is valued at less than $75,000, any beneficiary of the estate may file a petition for summary administration of the estate within two years of the death of the decedent. Upon approval by the court of the petition, the court may order the immediate distribution of the assets of the estate. Please see the statutes below for details.
735.101 Family administration; nature of proceedings.—Family administration may be had in the administration of a decedent’s estate when it appears:
(1) In an intestate estate, that the heirs at law of the decedent consist solely of a surviving spouse, lineal descendants, and lineal ascendants, or any of them.
(2) In a testate estate, that the beneficiaries under the will consist of a surviving spouse, lineal descendants, and lineal ascendants, or any of them, and that any specific or general devise to others constitutes a minor part of the decedent’s estate.
(3) In a testate estate, that the decedent’s will does not direct administration as required by chapter 733.
(4) That the value of the gross estate, as of the date of death, for federal estate tax purposes is less than $60,000.
(5) That the entire estate consists of personal property or, if real property forms part of the estate, that administration under chapter 733 has proceeded to the point that all claims of creditors have been processed or barred.
735.103 Petition for family administration.—A verified petition for family administration shall contain, in addition to the statements required by s. 733.202, the following:
(1) Facts showing that petitioners are entitled to family administration, as provided in s. 735.101.
(2) A complete list of the assets of the gross estate for federal estate tax purposes and their estimated value.
(3) An appropriate statement that the estate is not indebted or that provision for payment of debts has been made or the claims are barred.
(4) A proposed schedule of distribution of all assets to those entitled thereto as surviving spouse, heirs, beneficiaries, or creditors.
The petition shall be signed and verified by all beneficiaries and the surviving spouse, if any. The petition may be signed on behalf of a minor or an incompetent by her or his legal guardian or, if none, by her or his natural guardian.
This is intended to be general guidance and not necessarily state specific advice. There are some concepts that are the same or similar in most jurisdictions but not all. Use the AVVO.com web site to find an attorney in your area for state specific advice. In addition to that, contact your local bar association for referral to an attorney who specializes in this or talk to friends and neighbors to ask about an attorney they have used and liked. Often, but not always, the attorney will do an initial consultation free of charge. You will then be in a better position to determine what to do next. Best of luck to you!
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