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I bought a car from someone who bought at a deceased persons estate sale


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So I found the car of my dreams, but now that I have it working and "restored", the legal side is much more complicated than I thought. The history following the car (1970 ford galaxie) is that it was single owner up until the owners death in 1992 (the vehicle was last registered in 82 and sat in a barn up until 3 months ago). The guy that sold me the car bought it at an estate sale as a project for him and his son, but since his son was uninterested (sad, i know) he decided to resale. Me being the lucky winner walked away with the car and a blue title with a dead guys name on it. The way I understand it is I have 2 legal options:

1: get in touch with the guy who sold it to me and have the estate sign him over the car on the title (he doe have a bill of sale from the estate) and then he can sign it to me?

or

2: Request a bonded title. 

(other potential option)

3:Forge the signature???

 

Obviously its very illegal but its coming from an honest place for whatever its worth. I claimed that a craigslist utility trailer was homemade a few years back and it seemed like the person behind the desk wanted the path of least resistance as much as I did. This is all uncharted territory for me so any help would be great. Thanks!

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Depends on the state you are in.  Each is different with completely different sets of rules.

 

I will say that having an "open" title from some previous owner is not that rare in the collector car world.  But it is dangerous if something happens to that piece of paper.

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To me an "open title" has been signed by the previous owner just not to anyone. In Florida a title must be accompanied by a fully filled out and signed bill of sale (on back of a Florida title but I use a separate form in duplicate) Also a "duplicate" may have been issued. I inherited a car once and even with the car title and notarized will it took me over a year to get a clear title.

 

Don't ever, ever, EVER buy a car without a clear title.

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24 minutes ago, padgett said:

To me an "open title" has been signed by the previous owner just not to anyone. In Florida a title must be accompanied by a fully filled out and signed bill of sale (on back of a Florida title but I use a separate form in duplicate) Also a "duplicate" may have been issued. I inherited a car once and even with the car title and notarized will it took me over a year to get a clear title.

 

Don't ever, ever, EVER buy a car without a clear title.

Agree 100%. You can't be led by your heart when buying a vehicle. Make sure everything on the title is correct. You will sleep much better when you know all is right. 

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Have you checked with your state?  In Georgia I purchased a jeep that the title had not been signed over and the person had died. I just had to have a police officer come out and confirm the VIN and that looked up to verify it wasn't listed ad stolen and I got a GA title for it.

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Dumb you know what me waited 15 years to transfer mine from an owner back from who knows when. I had a bill of sale but the Illinois DMV didn't even need it. They did spend about 30 minutes checking stuff but at the end I had a receipt for a title in my name. Will never do it again but... I got lucky the DMV was more interesting in helping than hindering me.

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Thank you all so much for the replies. I will be calling the Texas DMV this week to see our state processes, I just didn't know what the logical first step is in a situation like this but I'm glad I came to the right place. What I read on the Texas DMV website seemed pretty daunting and I sure hope I don't end up needing the guy's death certificate. I'll post what I find when I find it.

 

3 hours ago, erichill said:

Have you checked with your state?  In Georgia I purchased a jeep that the title had not been signed over and the person had died. I just had to have a police officer come out and confirm the VIN and that looked up to verify it wasn't listed ad stolen and I got a GA title for it.

That's really neat, crossing my fingers that its this easy here

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Posted (edited)

I dealt with several title issues in Texas. Luckily bonded titles are an option. In some states they are not and it gives you a better chance for a good outcome. Bonded titles convert to actual titles in 3 years, if I remember right. You can ask your DMV office to recommend a good bonding company. 
 

I had really good luck with the local small town DMV. If they can’t help, it’s worth a call to the area manager. I worked over a year on a couple cars with the manager out of Austin and eventually got a really complicated situation taken care of. 
 

Best of luck! 

Edited by victorialynn2 (see edit history)
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Posted (edited)

In Washington State a release of interest signed and notarized by the person named in the estate as inheritor of the car, or the signed release of interest, and the appearance of the inheritor in person at the DMV with a death certificate will get you a new application for title.

Edited by Jack Bennett (see edit history)
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I had a similar problem in Texas. I purchased a car from the daughter of the deceased owner. This guy had "jumped" the title (ie, he never transferred it to his name). A helpful Texas title agent told me that the daughter could get the title in her name without a lot of trouble, and then sign it over to me. However, after much foot-dragging, the lady refused to help. I then hired a lawyer here in PA who got the title transferred to me in court. Cost was about $700. 

The bottom line: get a bill-of-sale with signature of the person named on the title. Go to a title agency with the seller, if possible. If there is no good title, then get the seller to procure one. If they cannot supply a correct title, then buy at your own risk!

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 The problem with cheating in order to get a title is that if you are ever caught the car will be impounded until the legal owner claims it. (and the legal owner is not you!)

 

 If you ever get it back there will be many $ worth of storage charges involved. ($1000's)

 

                                                         🥵

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As stated, much depends on the rules of your state, and the disposition of your DMV clerk.  If the title is signed by the deceased owner, you may be able to use a process of "buying" it from him.  Present yourself at the DMV as the person wanting to straighten it out and willing to pay the sales tax.  I had a similar situation with a FL title, deceased owner, registering in MI.  A good DMV clerk found a simple and legal solution.

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Last car I bought had a Texas title that the wife had inherited. Made a lowball offer but told the seller that I would pay $300 more if got a clear Florida title. He did and I did.

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14 hours ago, TannerF said:

So I found the car of my dreams, but now that I have it working and "restored", the legal side is much more complicated than I thought. The history following the car (1970 ford galaxie) is that it was single owner up until the owners death in 1992 (the vehicle was last registered in 82 and sat in a barn up until 3 months ago). The guy that sold me the car bought it at an estate sale as a project for him and his son, but since his son was uninterested (sad, i know) he decided to resale. Me being the lucky winner walked away with the car and a blue title with a dead guys name on it. The way I understand it is I have 2 legal options:

1: get in touch with the guy who sold it to me and have the estate sign him over the car on the title (he doe have a bill of sale from the estate) and then he can sign it to me?

or

2: Request a bonded title. 

(other potential option)

3:Forge the signature???

 

Obviously its very illegal but its coming from an honest place for whatever its worth. I claimed that a craigslist utility trailer was homemade a few years back and it seemed like the person behind the desk wanted the path of least resistance as much as I did. This is all uncharted territory for me so any help would be great. Thanks!

 

I am going through this now, although my situation is seems to be different then yours, There was no family and I am dealing directly with the Attorney handling it for the that particular county in New Jersey. 

 

I have a few questions? Is the tittle to the car in the same state to which you reside? How long ago was the title signed over? Do you know when the owner passed away? If it is in the same state the problem might be easier then you think. It is a matter of getting a copy of the death certificate of that person. That document is the key piece of the puzzle, if everything is clear of signatures and dates and particulars pertaining to the car, and no other name on the paperwork. I always try to remember that a situation like this can't be the only time it happened, and there has to be a way to resolve it. I know what I would I would do. Again this all depends on the State the car comes from and where it is going, and getting a person who actually gives a damn at DMV which can be the biggest problem. I would not panic, there are a lot of particulars that you did not share. As to what year, what car and condition

 

13 hours ago, padgett said:

To me an "open title" has been signed by the previous owner just not to anyone. In Florida a title must be accompanied by a fully filled out and signed bill of sale (on back of a Florida title but I use a separate form in duplicate) Also a "duplicate" may have been issued. I inherited a car once and even with the car title and notarized will it took me over a year to get a clear title.

 

Don't ever, ever, EVER buy a car without a clear title.

 

 

This was very true until, and would totally agree until we entered the Covid Era. I would avoid a late model car where a possible lien is on the car. With DMV closures due to illness and a shorthanded staff, combined with local restriction and distancing rules, this had apparently created a bottle neck. The car I purchased from the estate had no paperwork in the Attorney's possession. and explained it could take a few months to resolve. I must admit I was a little nervous because of of what we were all taught. It has not been smooth due some mistakes on the Attorney's end. In about 4 months the title came through, but was listed as a four door instead of a two door. It was shipped to my Post Office Box using my home address's zip code. He had the tittle changed and that was lost by FedEx. So he has another appointment next week to replace the replacement tittle issued next week. 

      

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Nice thing is that for a Florida title there is a website where you can input the VIN or title number and it will tell you the status (lien, branded, current registration, etc.). Do not know if other states have something similar.

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1 hour ago, padgett said:

Nice thing is that for a Florida title there is a website where you can input the VIN or title number and it will tell you the status (lien, branded, current registration, etc.). Do not know if other states have something similar.

 Florida really is a dream to register a vehicle in, at least in Marion County. New York was a nightmare, now it's just a bad real bad dream. 

 

From what I understand it would be much easier in Florida if Georgia was not neighbor state, apparently where a lot of vehicles paperwork gets washed there. 

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This whole thread brings up my question:   What do dealers in Florida do with the titles of trade-ins they auction off?

17 years ago I tradeded in my wife's Cadillac Seville for a Lincoln Continental.   I was happy until 2 years later when the 

Ft. Lauderdale Police called and said they had impounded my Cadillac Seville.   I told them when & where I traded it in and

never heard another thing.

My assumption was that the Lincoln Dealer wholesaled the car to a Buy Here Pay Here Car Lot and never retitled the car. 

Is that standard practice?   I know open titles are a problem for individuals, but what about dealers?

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58 minutes ago, Paul Dobbin said:

This whole thread brings up my question:   What do dealers in Florida do with the titles of trade-ins they auction off?

17 years ago I tradeded in my wife's Cadillac Seville for a Lincoln Continental.   I was happy until 2 years later when the 

Ft. Lauderdale Police called and said they had impounded my Cadillac Seville.   I told them when & where I traded it in and

never heard another thing.

My assumption was that the Lincoln Dealer wholesaled the car to a Buy Here Pay Here Car Lot and never retitled the car. 

Is that standard practice?   I know open titles are a problem for individuals, but what about dealers?

I am an auto insurance adjuster (not in FL) and I have dealings with auctioned cars every day.  Auction houses make mistakes. They deal with hundreds of titles.  They lose them sometimes.  They confuse lot numbers and transfer them incorrectly.  It happens.  I can easily see a car going through an auction and not getting transferred correctly.  It definitely happens.  In my state it usually gets caught within a year as the owner will get a tax bill and then I quite as to why, as the vehicle was sold long ago and is no longer theirs.  There are various incomplete title transfer forms and processes to correct these errors.

 

I would wager your car was sold to an out of state buyer, and since states don’t really communicate well at all in terms of auto titles, someone dropped the ball along the way when registering it there.  Since there is no property tax in FL on cars, I can see why it would go on for years without consequence to the buyer.  In my state it usually comes to light within a year due to the tax bill that comes along.

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1 hour ago, Paul Dobbin said:

reThis whole thread brings up my question:   What do dealers in Florida do with the titles of trade-ins they auction off?

17 years ago I tradeded in my wife's Cadillac Seville for a Lincoln Continental.   I was happy until 2 years later when the 

Ft. Lauderdale Police called and said they had impounded my Cadillac Seville.   I told them when & where I traded it in and

never heard another thing.

My assumption was that the Lincoln Dealer wholesaled the car to a Buy Here Pay Here Car Lot and never retitled the car. 

Is that standard practice?   I know open titles are a problem for individuals, but what about dealers?

 

I have worked in the retail auto industry in Florida for over 30 years. We never title the trade-ins in our business name. We leave them on open titles until we retail the unit. Once retailed, the vehicles are titled in the name of the new owner. In the event the car is wholesaled, we reassign the "open title" to the wholesale dealer or auction. 

 

It is possible your car was sold out of the state of Florida, and that the Florida DMV records never picked up that out of state ownership. In that case, the VIN on the vehicle would to be connected to your name / ownership in Florida. This is somewhat rare, but I have seen it on occasion.

 

Kevin

 

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Here in Louisiana, both a signed title, as well as a signed Bill of Sale )or Act of Donation) must be presented to the Office of Motor Vehicles.

Either the title, or the Bill of Sale (or Act of Donation) must also be notarized,

AND if the previous title is from other than Louisiana, there must also be notarized documentation stating that the seller is not a resident of Louisiana. 

This is required to ensure against anyone moving here and later selling without registering the vehicle and paying state and local sales tax.

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This is why when I sell a car a duplicate signed bill of sale is filed (one to the new owner for the DMV and one for my file. Have not had any problems but just in case...

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Classic Auto Title out of Dallas has been very helpful for several of my Texas car friends.  Hopefully your local DMV is more helpful than our Brazos County Unit.  Three years ago I purchased a car out of Canada and it took me 6 months to get a title.  The local DMV kept insisting on border documents that didn't exist.  Eventually found out the the requested border documents went digital 2 years previously and the DMV rules had not been updated

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4 hours ago, padgett said:

This is why when I sell a car a duplicate signed bill of sale is filed (one to the new owner for the DMV and one for my file. Have not had any problems but just in case...

 

Well Said !!

 

I do the same thing, and also when I sell a car -

and my copy shows when a car has been sold, and noted "As-Is, Where-Is, No Warranties Implied or Intended "

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6 hours ago, kevin1221 said:

We leave them on open titles until we retail the unit. Once retailed, the vehicles are titled in the name of the new owner. In the event the car is wholesaled, we reassign the "open title" to the wholesale dealer or auction. 

Same in Virginia. Most titles have several sections for re-assigment by dealers.

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Virginia got rid of the Notary Public requirement yeeeaaaars ago. No bill of sale needed between private parties, but, it IS required if you bought the car from a licensed dealer (new/used).

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Florida does not require notarization either. It does require a Bill of Sale signed by both parties and I make two copies - one for seller and one for buyer. Do this whether I am buying or selling. BTW I am not a dealer.

 

ps Florida title has a BOS form on the back. I use a separate form (above) instead. DMV does not care as long as there is one.

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55 minutes ago, padgett said:

Florida does not require notarization either. It does require a Bill of Sale signed by both parties and I make two copies - one for seller and one for buyer. Do this whether I am buying or selling. BTW I am not a dealer.

 

ps Florida title has a BOS form on the back. I use a separate form (above) instead. DMV does not care as long as there is one.

 

And a VIN verification for an out of state car, even if it is already registered in your name but in another state

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Why I put a value on a clean Florida title. Most time I ever spent was for a friend whose son was in the Navy. Had an Innocenti 1300 (Mini) with an Italian title, Japanese registration and a PILE of paperwork when picked up in Atlanta. Five trips to DMV, last two with car. If he hadn't been serving overseas (special treatment for DMV) probably never would have gotten. By then had driven enough to know I did not want. Now way, no how. Did have a nice dash.

 

 

frontdvr.jpg

minidash.jpg

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according to the degree of difficulty with your state's title laws, i wouldn't rule out creative caligrophy. if you have a legit bill of sale, you probably won't end up in an orange jump suit. i used to buy $100 cars from a local dealer . i would detail them, get them firing on all cyls, and take them to the auction. the checks would be made out to the previous owner, whould " sign" the the back of the check (wink wink) and i deposited in my account. 50 years ago, and i never had a problem.

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It sounds like bonded titles might be an easier route in some other states, but not here in NE. Around here, I would consider bonded titles a measure of last resort. Don't buy a car without a title in the hopes that you can make everything right with a bonded title. Having said that, there's really no problem buying a car that already has a bonded title generated by a previous owner. The DMV has even told me this. All the risk is assumed by the person who applies for the bonded title. No risk on the part of subsequent owners.

 

Outside of that, it's as padgett says: never ever buy a car without a clear and signed title...and mere possession of the certificate doesn't mean a good title. I'm guessing deceased owners (or partial owners) are the most common reason for unforeseen title problems. I've dealt with it at least a couple times; once was pretty easy to get around because I was dealing with a reputable AND knowledgeable used car dealer. The other time was difficult, but not insurmountable. I think the OP will get past this.

 

Nevertheless, I recently called a local craigslist ad for a two door '54 Studebaker Starlight coupe project, something I've always wanted. The semi-drunk and semi-rude seller told me he got it from the estate sale of a deceased person. I said, "no thanks."

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Another nice thing about the Florida website, it will also tell you if there has been a duplicate title issued and if there is a lien. Really just about everything except the name and address on the title.

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