One of the most commonly overlooked assets when it comes to estate planning is cars, trailers and other vehicles. Unlike houses, bank accounts, and other assets, it is easy to forget that the ownership of the vehicle will need to be transferred upon the death of the registered owner. When the deceased had a Will, this process is streamlined and the executor of the estate will be able to transfer the ownership. The Will might even direct who to transfer it to. However, when there is no Will, a different, and slightly more complex, process arises.

In order to transfer the ownership of a vehicle when there is no Will, the person dealing with the estate will need to establish their entitlement to the vehicle. To do this simply, that person will need a Statutory Declaration, commissioned by a lawyer, stating the specifications of the vehicle to be transferred, and the specific claim they have to the vehicle. This claim is usually as the next-of-kin to the deceased, but not necessarily. The person, or people, entitled to deal with the vehicle may differ depending if there was a Will or not. If there is no Will, the next-of-kin entitled under law is/are entitled. Depending on the family members left behind, this may be one or more people. In cases where there is a Will, this person is the executor named in the document.

Because vehicles are so often overlooked, this is a fairly common course of action. Most lawyers are familiar with drafting these documents and the Ministry of Transportation will accept this, along with proof of death and the vehicle registration information, as sufficient to transfer ownership. Once this is done, the person looking after the estate will be free to use the vehicle as their own, sell the vehicle, or otherwise transfer ownership.

While on the topic of vehicles, it is also important to note that it is possible to transfer ownership of a vehicle between family members without paying retail sales tax, one time in a 12-month period. In order to do this, you must complete a sworn statement called a “Family Gift of a Used Motor Vehicle in the Province of Ontario,” which will need to have sworn by a lawyer. This can be an efficient way to transfer ownership before a family member passes away to avoid complications, or to transfer the vehicle to a family member other than the one who is able to establish their claim for ownership, as detailed above.