In the state of Indiana, an estate executor must perform multiple tasks when given responsibility for a decedent's estate. These include: opening the estate for probate, collecting and conducting an inventory of the decedent's assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries, which can include vehicles.
A person also can name a transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary for their vehicle on its title before they die to bypass probate for that item. When transferring an Indiana car title through probate, or in any other manner, the person receiving the vehicle must comply with Bureau of Motor Vehicle (BMV) requirements and pay the applicable registration fees for a new title.
Executor's Role in the Probate Process
If an Indiana resident leaves a valid will when they die, the will names an executor for their estate. Probate proceedings begin when the executor files the decedent's will and a petition for probate with the probate court, requesting an official appointment. When the court approves the executor, it issues a document known as Letters Testamentary. This document proves the executor's authority over the decedent's assets.
The executor becomes the personal representative (PR) of the estate and is responsible for collecting the deceased's assets, paying their debts and taxes, and distributing their assets to the chosen beneficiaries. If a person dies leaving a vehicle in probate, the executor will sign the title over to the beneficiary, who will then have to transfer it into their name in the same way as if they were buying it.
Probate can take six months to a year, but Indiana allows a quicker vehicle transfer with a transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary or, if the total estate is less than a certain amount, through a small estate affidavit.
Vehicle Transfer Via Small Estate Affidavit
Indiana has a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate when the value of a decedent's assets is less than a specific amount. To receive their inheritance (in this case, a vehicle), the beneficiary must prepare a document stating their claim to the asset. This document, which must be signed before a notary public, is a small estate affidavit. When the institution or individual holding the asset receives the affidavit and a copy of the death certificate, it releases the vehicle to the beneficiary.
In Indiana, a small estate affidavit is available if the value of the gross probate estate, less reasonable funeral expenses, liens and encumbrances is not greater than $50,000. An inheritor cannot file this affidavit earlier than 45 days after the decedent's death and must notify all other beneficiaries of their plan to submit the document to the court.
If another person claims rights to the same asset, that person may sue for their share. A person filling out a small estate affidavit has to state the truth regarding their claim. If they lie on the affidavit, the court can punish them for perjury.
What Is a TOD Beneficiary?
A TOD beneficiary is a person or business designated by the decedent as a beneficiary to the vehicle. The beneficiary has no rights to the person's car before their death; the owner is free to sell the car, give it to someone else, or name another person as a beneficiary in their will at any time.
In Indiana, a person can add a TOD beneficiary to a Certificate of Title when they purchase a vehicle. If they already own the vehicle, they can apply for a new title with the TOD designation. To add a TOD beneficiary, they must bring their Certificate of Title with the TOD designation to an Indiana BMV office , and date and sign the TOD designation on the title.
Taking Vehicle Ownership in Indiana
A TOD beneficiary or any beneficiary who acquires a vehicle through inheritance must take the title designating them as such, along with a copy of the deceased person's death certificate to an Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles location to apply for a new title. They must also pay state title and transfer fees. A title transfer fee is $15 and an expedited title fee is $25. They must show proof of identity, such as:
- Original or certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate from a state or territory office of vital statistics.
- Current U.S. passport.
- Foreign passport with visa and I-94 form.
- Consular report of birth abroad.
Required Documents for Transfer of Ownership
They will submit the same information and complete the same forms for the inherited vehicle when transferring the title as they would if they had purchased it. The new owner must complete:
- Application for Certificate of Title (Form 205).
- Odometer Disclosure Statement (Form 43230) if the odometer information is not complete on the title.
- Physical Inspection Form (Form 39530) required for vehicles from out-of-state or when the vehicle identification number (VIN) is not readily viewable or accessible
Time Limit for Vehicle Title Transfer
A new vehicle owner must apply for an Indiana title transfer within 45 days after acquiring a vehicle. If they go over that time limit, there is an administrative penalty. A person entering Indiana from another state has 60 days to transfer a title or they must pay a $30 late fee.
Once the new owner hands their completed documents to the BMV and pays the required fees, they will receive a new certificate of title. If the car is not paid off at the time of the decedent's death, the beneficiary will also inherit the loan on the vehicle, which they will have to continue paying.
- NOLO: Probate Shortcuts in Indiana
- NOLO: Naming a TOD Beneficiary for Your Car
- All Law/NOLO: Settling an Estate How Transfer-on-Death Beneficiaries Claim Vehicles
- NOLO: Indiana Probate: An Overview
- Cornell Law: transfer-on-death (TOD)
- Indiana Legal Help: Small Estate Form
- Indiana.gov: Transfer on Death (TOD) Beneficiary
- Indiana: Proof of Identity
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.