CSG Law Alert: New N.J. Law Makes it Easier to Transfer Motor Vehicle Ownership Upon Owner’s Death

In 2022, New Jersey adopted a new law making it easier for car and other motor vehicle owners to transfer title to a vehicle upon death without the necessity of probating a Will or opening a formal estate administration. The statute, N.J.S.A. 39:3-30.1b, provides that the owner of a motor vehicle titled in New Jersey may provide during the owner’s lifetime for the transfer of his or her vehicle after death by designating a beneficiary who will receive the vehicle.

The owner’s designation of the beneficiary of a motor vehicle must be accomplished by a new form which the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission recently added to its website. The form is called a “Transfer on Death Beneficiary Designation” and it requires the owner to list his or her driver’s license number or Social Security number and the same information for the beneficiary. Information about the vehicle, including the VIN number, make and model, is also required to be listed on the form. The owner(s) of the vehicle must sign the form and the owner’s signature(s) must be notarized.

If there is a lien against the vehicle, the rights of the lienholder are protected after the owner’s death. The lien must either be fully satisfied prior to the issuance of a new title to the beneficiary, or the lien must be transferred to the beneficiary.

After the owner’s death, the beneficiary must present the original signed and notarized form, together with the certificate of title for the vehicle and a certified death certificate for the deceased owner, to the Motor Vehicle Commission to have the title transferred. The beneficiary needs to ensure the proper insurance is in place for the vehicle so the transfer can be processed. While the current instructions to the form also state that the beneficiary will need to complete an Application for Certificate of Ownership (OS/SS-7) at the Motor Vehicle Commission, the OS/SS-7 form was recently replaced by a Universal Title Application (OS/SS-UTA). If there are joint owners of the vehicle, the transfer form must be signed by both owners and it will become effective only upon the death of the surviving owner.

This new procedure treats the transfer of a motor vehicle as a transfer on death in the same manner as a bank account with a “TOD” or “POD” (payable on death) designation is automatically transferred on death to the designated beneficiary. In a situation where all other assets of the decedent are either jointly owned or have a TOD or POD designation, or where all other assets are owned by the decedent’s revocable trust, and there are no assets subject to probate, the new procedure will save time and money because it will not be necessary to probate the decedent’s Will merely to enable a motor vehicle to be transferred. Even where such other assets do exist and a Will has to be probated, the use of this new procedure will save time as the motor vehicle can be transferred at the Motor Vehicle Commission immediately after death and there will be no need to wait for the Surrogate’s Court to admit the Will to probate and officially appoint the executor. It should be noted that if a Will contains a bequest of a motor vehicle which is contrary to the beneficiary designated in the new transfer form, the Will will not override the form.

The new form for designating a beneficiary of a motor vehicle can be found here.

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