Transferring Title to a Motor Vehicle in Maryland at Death? Be Careful!

Many people try to avoid probate.  Often, title to assets is held in joint names with right of survivorship so that the surviving joint tenant inherits property without the need for probate.  But then there is that pesky automobile which you failed to put in joint names or want to leave to your cousin.

So, you proceed to the nearest Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (“MVA”) office and ask for Form VR 471 (12-14) titled “Transfer Upon Death” and fill it out per the instructions.  The next to last bulleted item on the Form reads:  “The vehicle owner must assign the title to the beneficiary and should place TOD (Title on Death) behind their signature.”

Finally finding your title to the vehicle you proceed to turn it over and, following the above instruction, you fill in the “Assignment of Ownership” section and fill in your cousin’s name with “TOD” written after it.  You sign that section of the reverse side of the title and put both forms away because, according to the instructions on VR 471, the MVA is not interested in the forms until you are deceased.

Time passes and you want to change which cousin gets the vehicle at your death or you want to sell it.  But wait! According to the MVA, you have to get a duplicate title per the MVA website:  “Should the vehicle owner choose to change the beneficiary or sell the vehicle prior to their death a duplicate certificate of title would need to be obtained.”  This statement does not appear on the VR 471 instructions.

And, so, off you go again to the MVA office to obtain Form VR-018, fill out the form, (or obtain it online from the MVA and complete it) and submit it with your fee ($20 as of this writing).  The duplicate title is mailed to you (or in some cases an alternate address) on the next business day and those contemplating a sale or a beneficiary change should keep that in mind.

What the above material means is that should you designate a “TOD” beneficiary during your lifetime, you have effectively “assigned” ownership of the vehicle to that beneficiary and you can only change the beneficiary or transfer title to the vehicle by way of securing a duplicate certificate of title.

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