How to Report a Death to Your State’s DMV: Step-by-Step

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After the death of a loved one, there are a lot of stops that come next. While you need to focus on your grief and take care of yourself, you also have to handle your loved one’s legal and financial affairs. It’s not always easy to know what to do when someone dies

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One of the important steps after a death is to notify your state’s DMV. The Department of Motor Vehicles is responsible for licensing and identification. Canceling your loved one’s driver’s license keeps your loved one’s identity safe, and it’s an important part of finalizing their affairs.

Because this isn’t something that’s talked about openly, it’s not always clear how to report your loved one’s death to the necessary authorities. In this guide, we’ll share how to report a death to your state’s DMV. This is an easy process, but there are a few steps you’ll need to take. 

Why Report the Death to the DMV?

First, it’s not always clear why you need to report the death to the DMV in the first place. This isn’t one of the more important departments on the death notification checklist, so it’s often overlooked. Why do you need to let the DMV know after a loss?

  • Driver’s license: Most importantly, you need to cancel your loved one’s license or ID. 
  • Disabled signs: If your loved one had a disabled sign or parking permit, this needs to be canceled or returned. 
  • License plates: If the car’s license plate is in your loved one’s name, it will need to be canceled and returned. 
  • Vehicle registration: Similarly, if the vehicle is registered in the decedent’s name, it needs to be transferred to a new owner. 
  • Title: Lastly, the vehicle title must be transferred to a new owner as well. 

Each state has its own process for reporting a death and carrying out the steps above. Depending on your loved one’s final wishes, will, and probate process, this could be quick and simple. 

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Who’s Typically Allowed to Report a Death to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)?

Anyone can report a death to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Most states make it simple for anyone, regardless of their relationship with the deceased, to settle the deceased’s DMV records. That being said, you will need to be a joint-owner, beneficiary, or executor in order to handle title or property-related transfers.

Regardless of whether you’re the spouse, a family member, or the administrator of the deceased’s estate, you can report the death. This includes canceling their driver’s license, license plates, registration, and so on. Again, you will not be able to transfer the vehicle registration or car title unless you’re authorized.  

What Will You Need in Order to Report a Death to the DMV?

In order to report the death to the DMV, you need key information. Like with all financial and legal matters, you will need to have a copy of the death certificate. If you need to know how to get a death certificate, you can contact your funeral home or local vital records office. 

When you report a death, you will need all of the following:

  • Death certificate
  • Driver’s license or ID cards
  • Disability cards or permits
  • Vehicle title and registration
  • License plates

If you’re unable to visit a DMV in person, you can also complete this process by mail. You can send a certified or notarized copy of the death certificate, original IDs, and a letter explaining how you wish to clear the driver’s license of the deceased. You will need to find the appropriate address for your state’s DMV. 

Another important thing to note if you’re transferring the vehicle’s owner is the probate process. If the vehicle’s ownership is contested or unclear, you will need to wait until this has been settled in court before you continue the process below. 

What Usually Happens After You Report a Death to the DMV?

After you report a death to the DMV, the driver’s license of the deceased is typically confiscated and destroyed. The driver’s license and driver’s record will be closed, securing the identity of the deceased to avoid fraud in the future. 

If your loved one owned a car, you will also be expected to hand over license plates and registration in the deceased person’s name. These will also be destroyed or transferred, depending on the car’s ownership. 

If there is a joint-owner for the car, they become the sole owner in most instances. If the car is being passed to a beneficiary, the DMV will provide steps for completing this process. In most cases, the title and registration are transferred into a new name. This means your loved one is no longer associated with the vehicle or their driving record. 

Steps for Reporting a Death to the DMV

If you’re ready to report a death to the DMV, there are a few different steps to follow. Depending on your state, these rules vary. However, you’ll usually follow some form of the steps below. 

1. Gather important information and documents

Before you begin, make sure you have everything you need. Most basic tasks can be handled right away at the DMV. However, if you don’t have the proper documentation, you will be turned away and asked to come back later. Because the DMV can be frustrating, make sure you have the following:

  • The death certificate of the deceased
  • The decedent’s driver’s license or state ID
  • Disability permits and passes (if applicable)
  • License plate(s) in the decedent’s name
  • Car title and registration

Visit your local DMV website or call to make sure you have the right documentation before your visit. You cannot present copies of the ID or death certificate. You must bring originals. If you plan to transfer the title or registration (as the executor or beneficiary), make sure you have your own documentation as well. 

2. Make an appointment

In many states and counties, it’s possible to make an appointment to plan your visit to the DMV. This can save you time and stress, so it’s highly recommended when possible. Visit your DMVs website for options to create an appointment in advance. 

Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is to plan your visit for the middle of the month. The beginning and end of the month are the busiest times at the DMV. Since you don’t want to feel rushed, try to visit at an off time if possible. 

3. Visit the DMV

Next, make your visit to the DMV nearest you. Once there, let a DMV employee know that you would wish to cancel your loved one’s driver’s license record. By doing so, they remove the deceased person from their mailing list and limit the potential for fraud. 

If you need to transfer the title or registration, make sure you have full documentation. You will need to prove that you’re listed as a beneficiary on the vehicle’s title or that you’re authorized to manage your loved one’s estate. Depending on your state, you might need to pay taxes on this transfer. 

4. Keep documents for your records

Lastly, make sure you keep any updated documents for your records. The DMV will likely take your loved one’s license, ID, license plates, and registration. All of this is to ensure it is destroyed properly. You might wish to make copies beforehand, but this is up to you. 

Otherwise, hold onto any new, updated titles or registration for your own records. If you had to pay any fees for the title transfer, keep receipts for your records. They might come out of your loved one’s estate during the probate process. When in doubt, contact the DMV for specific next steps. 

Closing Your Loved One’s Driving Record

Ultimately, it’s important to protect your loved one’s records from fraud and identity theft once they’re gone. By taking these steps above, you keep their driving record safe. More importantly, you begin the process of transferring their vehicle to a beneficiary or executor. Though dealing with your state’s DMV protocols can be time-consuming, they’re straightforward and simple. 

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, make sure you’re handling the right tasks at the right times. While the DMV might seem intimidating, this is one of the final ways to honor your loved one. 


Sources:
  1. “DMV Guide for Family Members and Friends of the Recently Deceased.” DMV Virginia. DINWIDDIEVA.us.

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