Your Estate Plan

Transferring Vehicle Ownership After Owner Passes Away in Alberta

Motor vehicles are often the forgotten puzzle piece in the estate planning process. Last year, a CBC news story from Ontario, entitled “Give me the damn car: Red tape keeps grieving widow from driving clunker” gained some traction and generated over 450 comments online.

You can read the full article here if you’re interested, but to summarize, an Ontario woman’s husband passed away leaving behind an $800.00 Hyundai-brand car registered in his sole name. The registry offices in Ontario requested that the woman provide an Ontario equivalent to what we in Alberta call a Grant of Probate. The legal fees to obtain such a grant from the Ontario courts well exceeded the value of the car itself.

So, What Happened?

In the end, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation agreed to transfer ownership of the car into the widow’s sole name upon receipt of a letter from a lawyer detailing the circumstances of the situation. While the situation resolved itself after much publicity, surviving relatives often incur significant legal expenses to recover ownership of a deceased loved one’s vehicle.

Estate Planning for Vehicles in Alberta

blue car on beach

In my experience as a Wills and Estates lawyer, clients often neglect to consider motor vehicles in their Estate plan. At West Legal, we take a holistic approach to Estate planning. While a Will is undoubtedly important, it’s insufficient on its own without thoughtful consideration and additional planning.

As part of our flat-rate legal fees, our Wills & Estates lawyers typically meet with clients for 1 hour to discuss their Estate plan in detail prior to drafting their Wills. This planning stage is important, because it assures you that you’ve “overturned all stones” in your Estate plan, prior to having your Will drafted.

When it comes to motor vehicles, we may advise clients to add a second registered owner to their shared vehicle, however, we also discuss the potential downsides of taking that step. For example, a car may be financed by one driver, and adding a second registered owner may require you to refinance the vehicle in order to update the registration. It’s also important to consider that once a second person is added to your vehicle registration, they become an equal owner of the vehicle. That means that a judgment creditor, divorcing spouse, or another third party could potentially make a claim against your vehicle.

Avoiding Probate

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for avoiding probate in Alberta, a well thought out Estate plan offers valuable insurance, especially when it comes to motor vehicles. If your circumstances mitigate against adding a second person to your vehicle registration, a valid Will offers some peace-of-mind. While the Alberta Registry offices are entitled to exercise discretion, they may transfer ownership of a deceased’s vehicle upon receipt of an original Will, death certificate, and proof of insurance from the Personal Representative of the estate, without requiring a Grant of Probate.

Develop Your Estate Plan

blue toy car on yellow ground

Our flat-rate legal fees for Wills are posted on our website, and are, in most cases, a fraction of what a probate application would cost. A valid Will offers your Estate, and ultimately your beneficiaries, an opportunity to potentially save thousands of dollars on a probate application, and ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Contact a Calgary Wills & Estates Lawyer today

If you don’t have an Estate plan in place for your assets, including your motor vehicles, contact the capable Wills and Estates lawyers at West Legal today, for a FREE, no-obligation consultation. or 403-723-0175 to get started.

9 Responses

  1. Tabitha

    My dad passed away a year ago. He had no will. I am the only next of kin. Both his sisters said he wanted me to have his truck and bike . But with no will the registration place told me I cant I need to be the executor. I have asked a lawyer to help me but they were 11 estate’s behind I recently called them and they are now 8 estate’s behind its been a year.. how can I get the vehicles in my name. So I can put some kind of insurance on them.

    1. Dave West

      Hi Tabitha,

      Thanks for your email. I will have someone from our estate department get in touch with you right away to discuss your options.

      Dave West

  2. T.Dennis

    My father past away I am his only child and he has no wife also no WILL I am his next of kin within the hospitals and am a beneficiary on his investments how/what needs to be done for me to obtain the estate to sell out as the property is in Edmonton and I am 5 hours to the north.
    Things I need to figure out..
    House and property
    Investments.. any insight is helpful

  3. Misty Duncan

    A Family Friend passed away, the Executor of the will is from Ontario and is in Alberta handling the affairs, and wants to sell the car before they leave in April. What needs to be done in order to make this happen. The car is still in the Deceased name does it need to go to Probate first?

  4. Wade Bougie

    Simple question… if both vehicles were insured and registered in my parents names does my mom need new license plates now that my father passed away. She has changed the insurance to be in her name and the estate of my deceased fathers name. Can she just register the 2 vehicles or need new plates for both?

    1. If both vehicles were registered in both parents’ names, all that is required is for your mom to register (and insure) the vehicles in her own name. It is not necessary for her to obtain new license plates for the vehicles.

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