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Everything you need to know about selling a car on probate
When someone close to you passes away, selling off their belongings is rarely going to be the first consideration. However, if you are trying to get a deceased person’s estate and financial affairs in order, it may be something you need to do – so, it is worthwhile getting an insight into the legal implications.
Commonly, one of the assets you will need to consider is the car owned by the deceased person. But do you need to wait until probate has been granted before you are legally entitled to transfer the car’s ownership in order to sell it?
What is probate?
When someone dies, their affairs need to be officially wound up and processed by the state. This means in effect, that any outstanding debts they may have need to be paid off and that their estate (if they have any) needs to be distributed to those individuals that are entitled to inherit.
This process is called ‘probate’ – and it is undertaken by those people named as executors in the deceased’s Last Will and Testament (if they have one). If there is no Last Will and Testament the executor role will be determined by inheritance laws instead. In this instance, the executor role is instead referred to as a ‘personal representative.’
As part of the probate process, an executor or personal representative will need to calculate whether any Inheritance Tax is due – and, if so, how much. They will also be responsible for reporting this to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and settling the bill.
The executor or personal representative also need to value the deceased’s estate – which means everything they owned before they died. Including their car, if they had one.
Before selling a deceased person’s car
There are several steps that need to be taken before you can deal with a deceased person’s financial affairs.
You first need to register the death within five days – and this will allow you to obtain their death certificate. This is an extremely important deed, and you will need to retain it – as you will need the original document to gain access to the deceased person’s bank accounts.
If the deceased person has left behind a Last Will and Testament, they will have named an executor – and that individual will be responsible for handling all matters relating to their estate.
As soon as the named executor has original copies of the deceased’s death certificate and Last Will and Testament – then they can apply for probate. If the deceased has died without leaving a Last Will and Testament, the application process is essentially the same, but instead, you’ll have to apply for ‘Letters of Administration’ rather than a ‘Grant of Probate’.
Once the chosen executor of the estate has the death certificate, the Last Will and Testament and Grant of Probate (or death certificate and Letters of Administration, if there was no Last Will and Testament), they can then officially notify the banks/building societies and the utility and insurance companies of the deceased person about their death.
Can I sell a car before probate is granted?
Yes, you can – but only if you are the deceased’s named executor or official personal representative.
Legally speaking, there are two types of property covered by probate – fixtures and chattels. ‘Fixtures’ will be parts of the deceased’s estate that are immobile – such as fixed kitchen fittings, radiators, built-in cupboards and floor coverings. Whereas ‘chattels’ refer to any property types that are movable between locations, such as white goods, furniture, and cars.
As a ‘chattel’, executors or personal representatives do not have to wait until a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration have been issued in order to transfer the car to another owner – or to sell it.
If you have been made executor or personal representative for a deceased person’s estate and wish to sell their car, you will need to produce the death certificate and legal proof of your entitlement to sell the car on behalf of their estate. This will typically be a copy of the deceased’s Last Will and Testament naming you as executor or a solicitor’s letter showing your entitlement to deal with the proceeds of the estate.
However, it can get complicated. If the deceased has named more than one executor in their Last Will and Testament, all named executors – with all the required personal proofs of identification – need to be present when arranging the car’s sale.