After a person dies, it can be hard to know what happens with their car.

Deceased estates: When someone dies, what happens to their car?

  • Mel Buttigieg
  • Writer, Bare
  • May 12, 2021
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When someone dies, their family is often left wondering what to do with the deceased person’s car or other vehicles. Families and beneficiaries are usually left to decide if they will sell the car or if they need to transfer the vehicle to another driver – either following the sale or as a gift.

So we have put together this 8-step guide to explain generally what happens to a person’s car when they die.

Before we get into it though, it is important to note that we do not recommend anyone driving a deceased person’s car before it has been transferred to a new owner and insured in their name. This is because both the estate and the driver may become liable for expenses if the car were to be involved in a crash.

1. Determine ownership of the vehicles

When someone dies, an executor of a Will or an administrator takes ownership of the deceased estate and distributing the assets. So before deciding what happens to a deceased person’s car, the person responsible for the deceased person’s estate must determine who has ownership of the vehicle.

If the deceased person was survived by a joint owner of the vehicle (usually a spouse or partner) who is not already a registered owner, vehicle ownership can be transferred into their sole ownership through the road authority in their state or territory (explained in point 6 below).

However, if there is no surviving joint owner, the executor of the Will or estate administrator must determine who the vehicle is to be distributed to. If a Will exists, check if it mentions specific instructions about the distribution of the car and other vehicles. These should be upheld to the extent permitted by law, as with any other bequests or requests made in the Will

If the Will does not mention any vehicles or if no Will exists, they will then form part of the residuary estate. It will then be up to you and the beneficiaries to agree on how any vehicles will be dealt with.

2. Agree on how the vehicles will be distributed

If the Will is not clear about the deceased person’s car or other vehicles, or if there is no Will, you will need to decide if they will be either be transferred to a beneficiary or family member or sold and the cash proceeds distributed among beneficiaries of the residuary estate.

3. Maintain the vehicle

Regardless of whether any car or vehicle is being transferred or sold, determine if any maintenance is needed to potentially get a higher sale price or valuation. If it is financially viable to perform some maintenance on the vehicle, arrange this ahead of sale or valuation.

4. Continue paying for car insurance, rego, toll accounts

Even if a surviving spouse or dependant is using the vehicle, continuing to pay for vehicle insurance will offer peace of mind until the vehicle is either transferred to a beneficiary or sold.

Registration payments may need to be up to date if the vehicle is inherited or sold. You will also need to find out if the vehicle had a road toll account attached to it for travel on toll roads, and ensure any travel fees are continued to be paid. 

Keep a lookout for any registration invoices from the state transport department. This will help you to understand if there are any outstanding fines or driver’s license renewals that are no longer needed.

It can be hard to decide what to do with a deceased person's car.
After a person dies, it can be hard to know what happens with their car.

5. Value vehicles and arrange sale if required

Regardless whether any car or vehicle is being transferred or sold, a valuation is required both for tax purposes and for the Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration) application and final distribution. We suggest getting three valuations by independent dealerships and determine the average price or you can pay an independent specialist for a valuation.

If the vehicle must be sold, arrange this now.

6. Arrange registration transfer

You have a few options about what to do next depending on what needs to happen with the vehicle’s ownership:

If the deceased person’s car or vehicle is registered

If the vehicle is currently registered, you can either transfer the vehicle registration to another owner, or cancel the registration through the roads department in your state or territory, such as VicRoads or the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services.

You will need to hand in the registration plates. If the vehicle has custom number plates, determine whether to transfer or retain them. You may be eligible to claim a refund in some states or territories, which must be paid into the deceased person’s estate.

In some states, you may be eligible for a refund to claim the remaining part of the licence fees paid. If a refund is approved, it will be paid to the deceased’s estate.

If the deceased person’s car or vehicle is unregistered

If a vehicle that belonged to a deceased person is unregistered, you may register it to a new owner.

If the vehicle is being transferred into a spouse’s name, all you need to do is complete a simple transfer form. If it is being bequested, you’ll need to fill out a vehicle sale form – even if it is a gift.

More information is available from the transport authority in your relevant state or territory below:

7. Cancel a licence

You will need to notify the roads department in your state or territory that the person is deceased and advise that you are the authorised representative of the estate. You can generally do this either by mail or in person. You’ll need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate and grant of probate. In person, the original or certified copy usually only needs to be sighted. You will also need to provide your own identification.

Any drivers licence, learner permit or marine licence the deceased had will need to be cancelled through the relevant state’s roads department. Each state and territory does this a little differently so you will need to check in with the transport authority in your relevant state.

Most of the time licence cancellation can be done by completing a cancellation and refund request and sending it in with a certified copy of the death certificate. However, some states will require you to visit a service centre in person to process this while you’re also arranging registration transfer or cancellation and the return of number plates on vehicles that won’t be used. You will need to visit a transport service centre in person to return registration plates of vehicles registered solely under the deceased.

8. Close a road toll account

Once the estate is finalised (the vehicle is sold or transferred), if the deceased had an account for accessing toll roads – or if you need to transfer the account to a spouse or surviving partner – you can do this at a transport service centre in your state. Please note that you can usually only transfer the account to a spouse or partner, but not another family member. Outstanding fees must be paid when closing the account. You’ll also need to return any tags undamaged to receive any security deposit refund or avoid a non-return tag fee.

Refunds will generally be paid by cheque to the estate within six to eight weeks of closure of the accounts. Aside from your own personal ID, the deceased’s account details and the tag, you’ll also need to provide a copy of the death certificate.


If you need some help at any stage of the Probate or estate administration process, our team of estate lawyers are here to help. Give us a call on (03) 9917 3388 or visit the Bare Law website here.

This article is not legal advice. You should chat with your solicitor or accountant for specific advice on your personal or financial situation.

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