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How to Transfer Your Car to Your Trust

vintage car driving fast through desert

If you live in Arizona and own a vehicle, there’s now a convenient way to transfer your car to your trust. Previously, you had two bad choices. You could have kept the car outside the trust, and then let the family fight over how to transfer it. Sometimes you would have to open a probate. OR, you could put the car in your trust and be forced to deal with an MVD bureaucracy that was not intended to handle trusts.

Where to find the form

A.R.S. §28-2055 creates a method of transferring vehicle titles upon death. This is similar to deeds for real property and pay on death / transfer on death titling for personal property. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation created a Beneficiary Designation form (for vehicle title transfer upon death). This form allows a vehicle owner to transfer a vehicle on his or her death by designating one or more beneficiaries.

Filling Out the Beneficiary Designation Form To Transfer Your Vehicle To Your Trust

First: Enter the Vehicle Identification Number and the year and make of your vehicle. This information should be on the vehicle’s title.

Second: Determine what person(s) the vehicle should be transferred to upon death. Write each person’s full legal name under ‘Beneficiary Full Legal Name’. If you know the person’s date of birth you should enter it. This will help eliminate any potential confusion. If you want to leave the vehicle to only one person, leave the ‘Legal Status’ box blank. If you are leaving the vehicle to two or more people, you will need to decide how you want the beneficiaries to own your vehicle. Here are the options:

  • Name your trust: If you have a trust, talk to your estate planning attorney about whether to transfer the vehicle to your trust. This would make sense if, for example, the vehicle has significant value (such as more than a few thousand dollars), or there is a chance that the beneficiaries will be minors.
  • Joint Tenants: Each person has full authority to transfer ownership of the vehicle or take out a loan on the vehicle. The names on the title will read: Bob Smith or Mary Green. If this is what you want, write OR in the ‘Legal Status’ box next to each beneficiary’s name. (NOTE: If you want to ensure that one owner doesn’t just take and sell the car, this is probably not the best solution.)
  • Tenancy in Common: The signatures of each party will be required to transfer ownership of the vehicle or take out a loan on the vehicle. If one party dies, the deceased party’s interest must be handled with their estate. The names on the title will read: Bill Henry and Mary Green. If this is what you want, write AND in the ‘Legal Status’ box next to each beneficiary’s name. (NOTE: This should rarely be used because it puts the two owners in the position of having to make joint decisions about everything. What happens if the two new owners don’t get along? That could be a nightmare.)
  • Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship: The signatures of each party will be required to transfer ownership of the vehicle or take out a loan on the vehicle. If one party dies, upon proof of death, the surviving party may sign alone. The names on the title will read: Bob Smith and/or Mary Green. If this is what you want, write AND/OR in the ‘Legal Status’ box next to each beneficiary’s name. (NOTE: This is slightly better than the previous two methods. But one owner could still either refuse to cooperate.)

Third: Once you have finished filling in this information, stop: do not sign the form. Take the form with your title to your local MVD office. You must sign the form in front of the MVD agent and have the MVD agent notarize your signature. (You can alternatively sign in front of a regular notary.) Give the completed form and your title to the MVD agent along with the $4 fee. The MVD agent will give you a new title with the beneficiary information on it. Your vehicle will now be transferred, probate-free, to the person(s) you named upon death.

If you couldn’t tell, my preference would be to either name one person to inherit the car, or name your trust. If your vehicle has any significant value, I’d suggest naming the trust. However, I’m not giving legal advice here. I don’t know your particular situation. If you want legal advice, please make an appointment by calling 602-443-4888, or contacting us here.

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