Estate Planning

Does The DMV Know When Someone Dies?

Larry Li

August 1, 2022


If your partner or loved one passes away, you may be wondering what to do about their vehicle if the car is in your partner's name.

But does the DMV automatically find out when someone dies?

Yes, the DMV is eventually notified of someone's death after Social Security is notified of the passing. Therefore, you don’t need to notify the DMV that your loved one passed away, but you can contact them directly to dispose of the license and transfer the car title to your name.

Coping with the loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult challenges we face. This guide will explain all the DMV-related tasks you need to address upon the death of a loved one or family member. This way, you can resolve all your loved one’s outstanding issues with their driver’s license, vehicle registration, and title. 

In today’s guide, you’ll learn:

  • If the DMV automatically finds out when someone dies

  • Reasons to notify the DMV after someone dies

  • 4 things to know when reporting a death to the DMV

  • 2 common DMV scenarios when someone dies

  • Preparing for the future with Trustworthy

Trustworthy can help.

We make sure that you have the resources you need to create your estate plan and the peace of mind that your loved ones will be able to access it. Trustworthy is a digital service that organizes and protects your important information, including estate documents.

Does The DMV Automatically Find Out When Someone Dies? 

The DMV is a state agency, and the state recognizes when death certificates are issued. More specifically, the DMV does Social Security sweeps, meaning that if somebody dies and their Social Security number is reported, the DMV knows about the death.

However, it may take some time for the DMV to find out after somebody dies. For this reason, you can notify the DMV yourself if you have urgent matters to take care of. 

Let’s discuss a few reasons why you would want to notify the DMV after someone dies.

Reasons To Notify The DMV After Someone Dies

There are various reasons why you should notify the DMV after someone dies, rather than waiting for the DMV to receive the death certificate notification themselves. 

So why do you need to let the DMV know about your deceased loved one?

  • Driver’s license: Most importantly, you must cancel your loved one’s license or ID. This way, you can prevent identity theft and fraud. Furthermore, the DMV will stop mailing letters to your deceased loved one.

  • Disabled signs: If your loved one had a parking permit or disabled sign, it needs to be canceled or returned.

  • License plates: If the car’s license plate is in the deceased one’s name, it needs to be canceled or returned.

  • Vehicle Registration: If the vehicle is registered in your loved one’s name, it needs to be transferred to a new owner.

  • Title: The vehicle title also needs to be transferred to a new owner.

As you can see, these are the five main reasons why you want to notify the DMV after someone dies. 

In many cases, your loved one may have left their car for you in their will, and you may wonder what the DMV requires from you. Or, maybe your partner died, and your name is not on the car title.

However, each state has its own process for reporting death and completing the tasks above. Depending on your loved one’s will, probate process, and final wishes, this can be quick and simple. 

I explain your best plan of action in these situations, regardless of what state you reside in, further along in this guide.

Reporting A Death To The DMV: 4 Things To Know

Each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has its own guidelines and procedures on how it handles reporting a death.

Here are five things you should know when reporting a death to the DMV.

1. Anyone Can Report a Death

First of all, anyone can report a death to the DMV. In fact, most states make it simple for everyone, regardless of their relationship with the deceased. This way, you can easily settle the deceased one’s DMV records.

So, regardless of whether you’re a family member, spouse, friend, or the administrator of the deceased one’s estate, you can report the death. This includes the ability to cancel their license plates, registration, driver’s license, and so on.

However, you must be the joint owner, beneficiary, or executor in order to hand property or title-related transfers. You can’t transfer the vehicle registration or car title unless you’re authorized.

2. Key Information the DMV Requires

If you want to report your loved one’s death to the DMV, you need to provide key information. First, like with all legal and financial matters, you must have a copy of the death certificate. You can contact your loved one’s funeral home or local vital records office to obtain a death certificate.

When you report a death to the DMV, you need the following items:

  • Death certificate

  • Driver’s license or ID cards

  • Disability cards or permits

  • Vehicle title and registration

  • License plates 

If you don’t have proper documentation, the DMV will turn you away and ask you to come back later. Therefore, gathering the items above is crucial before visiting the DMV.

I highly recommend calling your local DMV or visiting the website to make sure you have the correct documents before you visit. In most cases, you cannot present copies of the death certificate or IDs. Instead, you must bring the originals. 

With Trustworthy, users can upload all of their important documents in one place so family members will know exactly where to find these items in an emergency. 

3. Visiting or Mailing the DMV

Once you have gathered all the required documents and information, the next step is contacting the DMV. The easiest way is to schedule an appointment with the DMV and physically go in at the scheduled date. This way, you don’t have to walk in and potentially wait in a long line.

In most counties and states, you’re able to make an appointment to plan your visit to the DMV. Visit your local DMV’s website for options on how to create an appointment in advance.

If you can’t visit your local DMV in person, you can also complete the process by mail. You must send a certified or notarized copy of the death certificate, your loved one’s original IDs, and a letter explaining how you want to clear the driver’s license of the deceased. 

But you need to find the appropriate address for your state’s DMV. It’s also important to note the probate process that occurs if you’re transferring the vehicle’s ownership. If the vehicle’s ownership is unclear or contested, you will need to wait until this is settled in court before you can continue the process.

4. After You Report the Death to the DMV

After you report your loved one’s death to the DMV, the driver’s license is usually confiscated and destroyed. Furthermore, the DMV will close the driver’s license and driver’s record, securing the deceased’s identity to avoid fraud in the future.

If your loved one owned a vehicle, you would also be required to hand over license plates and registration in your loved one’s name. These items will also be destroyed or transferred, hinging on the car’s ownership.

2 Common DMV Scenarios When Someone Dies

Getting your affairs in order after the passing of your partner is exhausting and stressful. After dealing with a life-altering event like this, the last thing you want to think about is paperwork. 

Nonetheless, you may be wondering what to do about your partner’s vehicle if your loved one left you their car in their will. You also may be wondering what to do with the vehicle if your name is not on the car title.

Let’s discuss your best plan of action in these two common DMV scenarios. 

Scenario 1: "My Partner Died and They Left Me Their Car In A Will, What Will The BMV Require?"

When someone passes away, the car becomes part of your estate and is handled by the estate’s executor or administrator. If your loved one lived in a state with Transfer-on-Death (TOD) vehicle registration, the vehicle doesn’t need to stay stagnant while the estate goes through probate.

Furthermore, if the deceased filled out a TOD Vehicle Registration Form, the named beneficiary in the will gains control over the vehicle immediately after the death. Since you are the named beneficiary, you can apply for a car title and registration. Typically, you’ll need to provide the existing car title, your application, and a copy of your loved one’s death certificate. 

However, you’ll also need to obtain insurance and vehicle registration to drive the vehicle legally. You can register in person at a DMV office. 

Scenario 2: "My Partner Died and My Name Is Not ON The Car Title, Does The BMV Care?"

Driving a deceased person’s vehicle is allowed as long as you have the estate's executor's permission and the vehicle is in good standing. If your loved one is the only name on the car title, a surviving spouse can transfer ownership of the vehicle. 

However, the process of transferring ownership of a car after death depends on a few factors. These include where there are beneficiaries listed, if the car is going through probate, and if your loved one lived in a state that offers Transfer on Death as an option when registering a car.

Transferring a car title after death is a straightforward process if you’re a beneficiary, joint owner, or surviving spouse and the vehicle isn’t part of a probated estate.

Here’s how you can transfer a vehicle title after death:

Step 1: Find Out if the Vehicle Is Part of a Probated Estate 

If the title of the car was only in your partner’s name, you must find out if the estate is going through probate. Probate is the legal process in which an estate of an individual is handled after their death. If the car is in the probate process, it can take months or years for the car to be handed over to the new owner.

If the car is part of probate, it’s up to the estate’s executor or administrator to handle the car title transfer to you. However, if the car is not part of probate and you are the spouse, you can usually visit your local Title Office with the title of the car and a copy of the death certificate. Then, ask that they issue a new vehicle title to you. 

Step 2: Gather Required Documents

Each state has a unique set of laws regarding the probate and car title transfer process. For this reason, you should check with your state laws before proceeding. 

However, you typically need to gather the following documents and information to transfer a car title after death:

  • The car title or a certificate of the title

  • A copy of the death certificate

  • An order from the probate court authorizing the vehicle transfer

  • An odometer disclosure statement

Step 3: Transfer the Vehicle Title

Once you have all the required documentation, you can head to your local Title Office to transfer the car title. You need to be the vehicle's beneficiary or the estate executor to file for a title transfer. 

Preparing For The Future

Most of the time, it should be relatively easy to transfer a deceased loved one’s car into someone else’s name. Probate is usually unnecessary, and the beneficiary doesn’t need to hire an attorney to help with the transfer. 

In order to prepare for the future, you can use Trustworthy for all your crucial estate planning duties. Trustworthy is an innovative online storage platform dedicated to storing important documents like wills, power of attorney documents, and advance care directives.

Planning out your estate is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your family. Trustworthy takes all the guesswork out of this process and helps you understand what to tackle first. Trustworthy matches you with estate planners and provides access to helpful templates and tools.

Most importantly, Trustworthy gives you a secure cloud-based location to store, organize, and share your most sensitive information. You can try a 2-week free trial here.

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