How does my aunt bequeath her car to me?

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How does my aunt bequeath her car to me?

My aunt has a will leaving her entire estate to my two siblings and myself. She has a car and is still driving it, but wants to give it to me and have shared ownership in case somethings happens to her. Does she just add me to the title of the car?

Asked on March 22, 2009 under Estate Planning, Ohio

Answers:

FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

We'd recommend that she not put your name on the title as then in many states as an owner you may also have personal liability should she get into an accident and the damages exceed the insurance coverage.

Having her amend her Will, such as with a codicil, to provide that the car should go to you is one way that is formal and binding.

A second, less formal way would be to tell each of the natural beneficiaries of her estate -- ideally in a letter -- that she wants you to have the car, free and clear (or subject to any outstanding loan) above and beyond any other share you'd get. While that's not binding, in most family situations it would carry the day.

FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

Adding your name to the title, even as joint tenant, can create problems for YOU should she get into an accident as YOU also may be liable for the accident. Further, as she needs insurance to drive, if your driving record is questionable, that may raise her insurance rates, and if her record is spotty, your rates might go up.

In some states it is possible to name beneficiaries for specific items of personal property using a witnessed letter of instructions -- it sort of serves as a "mini-Will."  In most states this has to be done in some other way, most safely in a Will or Codicil.

If she is revising her Will, having her add a paragraph leaving her car to you, or creating a Codicil to her existing Will to leave the car to you would be just as effective.

One issue is what would happen if she sells her old car (say the 2000 Buick) and gets a brand new car (a 2010 Mercedes Benz)? That's why the wording that will be used is very important. If the wording in the Will or Codicil provides that you should get the 2000 Buick and she no longer has it at death, you get nothing. If the wording is you are to receive whatever automobile she owns at her death, the new car would go to you.

On an informal basis, where everyone gets along and a relative's death is highly unlikely to change things, a letter from her to the person she intends as her executor stating that she'd like the car to be allocated to you as part of your share of the items of personal property is likely to be honored, especially where you are otherwise an heir at law. Of course if her Will provides that everything should go to her two children, and you are not named as an heir, the executor can not give you the car without the childrens' authorization. Or if she leaves her personal property to all her nieces and nephews to share equally, there is always the issue of whether you would get the car PLUS your share (rather than instead of your share) which could raise the ire of other family members.


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