Under Section 2106.18 of the Ohio Revised Code, two automobiles owned by a decedent (as long as they do not have a combined value of $40,000 or more) will transfer to his or her surviving spouse at the death of the first spouse to die. The procedure to make the transfer is for the surviving spouse to take the automobile title or titles to the automobile title department in the Common Pleas Clerk’s office together with a certified copy of the deceased spouse’s death certificate. The surviving spouse should tell the clerk that his or her spouse has passed, and give the clerk the certified copy of the death certificate and the automobile title(s). The clerk will issue a new title in the name of the surviving spouse. Once the new title is issued, the surviving spouse will need to obtain new registration and plates for the automobile.
A common question is whether something other than a “automobile” will pass to a surviving spouse under R.C. 2016.18.
The Ohio Attorney General issued an opinion (OAG 83-083) on this very issue. There were three questions involving the interpretation of the predecessor statute to R.C. 2016.18. These questions were:
- As used in the statute, does “automobile” mean a “passenger car”?
- If the decedent leaves both an automobile and a truck, must the surviving spouse choose the automobile or may the surviving spouse select between the automobile and the truck?
- In the event a deceased spouse leaves an automobile, a truck, and some other type of motorized vehicle (such as a motor home), may the surviving spouse select from among them?
The answer, according to the Ohio Attorney General, is that “automobile” as used in the statute, means a “passenger car.” However, when the deceased spouse did not own a passenger car, then “automobile” under the statute includes a truck, if the truck was used as a method of conveyance by the deceased spouse or the deceased spouse’s family when the deceased spouse was alive. Further, the Attorney General ruled that where both an automobile and a truck are left by a deceased spouse, the surviving spouse is entitled only to the automobile, but may not select the truck. Finally, when the deceased spouse left an automobile, a truck, and other type of motor vehicle (such as a motor home), the surviving spouse is entitled to select only the automobile, and may not select from among the motor vehicles.
A solution to this in the case of a spouse who owns an automobile and a truck and/or any other type of motor vehicle, is that the spouse may own the automobile in his or her name alone, which will pass to the surviving spouse upon the titled owner’s death. The titled owner may then name his or her spouse as the “transfer-on-death” beneficiary of the truck and any other type of motor vehicle. The process to name a transfer-on-death beneficiary to a titled motor vehicle is to take the title to the motor vehicle to the motor vehicle title department in the Common Pleas Clerk’s office of the county in which the owner resides. Present the title to the clerk and request that he or she add the surviving spouse as the transfer-on-death beneficiary. The clerk will take the title, add the spouse as the transfer-on-death beneficiary, and charge a small fee to do so.
It is well worth taking action to be sure that titled motor vehicles do not pass through one’s probate estate at death. This small exercise can save a surviving spouse considerable time and money in transferring motor vehicles titled in a deceased spouse’s name after the death of the first spouse to die.