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Vehicle Acquired Through Death of Owner

A surviving joint owner or owners may apply for a new certificate of title by presenting a certificate of title in the names of the surviving and deceased joint owners and an authenticated death certificate. When a co-owner of a vehicle title is deceased and the surviving owner is issued sole ownership of the vehicle, the title is exempt from excise tax.

If you are not a surviving joint owner of a vehicle, there are two ways to transfer title of a vehicle previously owned solely by the deceased.  Both require official court documentation in order to transfer title.

Please note:  The Department of Motor Vehicles no longer accepts the Vehicle Heir Application.  All applicants wishing to transfer vehicles titled in the name of a deceased must follow one of the following two sets of instructions.

(A)  Abbreviated Probate or Standard Probate Proceeding

If the vehicle is subject to an abbreviated or standard probate proceeding, only the deceased's personal representative may assign the vehicle. If the vehicle is currently titled in another jurisdiction, you must provide equivalent documentation from that jurisdiction. You must present the following documents to transfer title:

  • Assignment of ownership executed by the deceased's personal representative.
  • An authenticated copy of the letters testamentary or administration issued to the representative by an appropriate court.
  • An application for a new Certificate of Title. (Note: the application must be completed by the person assigned ownership.)

(B)  Small Estate Proceeding (this option is only available if the property of the deceased is subject to administration in the District of Columbia).

If the vehicle is subject to a small estate order and is a scheduled asset in the order, only the person in whose name the Probate Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia vests title in the vehicle may assign the vehicle.  You must present the following documents to obtain a title for a vehicle:

  • Assignment of ownership executed by the person in whose name the probate court vests title.
  • An authenticated copy of the small estate order.
  • An application for a new Certificate of Title. (Note: the application must be completed by the person assigned ownership.)

When the only assets of a deceased's estate are one (1) or two (2) vehicles, the Register of Wills will administer those assets under the small estate proceedings.

For additional information on Small Estates, Abbreviated Probation, Standard Probation, or the required court documents outlined above, visit the Probate Division/Office of Register of Wills at the Superior Court of DC.