We're a firm that does a lot of probate, and sometimes an easy fix will come up of which I should have been aware but which had escaped my notice. We're in the midst of settling both my father's estate and my father-in-law's estate at the moment, and I have discovered (or re-discovered) one of those things: In Texas, there's an easy way to take one load off of your spouse when you die, and that is to designate ownership of your vehicles as "joint tenants with right of survivorship".
When a person dies owning a vehicle, the inevitable hassle begins as to how the car gets re-titled. Even if both names are on the title, the state presumes it's community property and so the decedent's half has to be conveyed to the survivor. That requires either a probate action or an affidavit of heirship for transfer of motor vehicle, both of which take time and cost money and involve dealing with sometimes surly employees. However, there's a place down at the bottom of the form (see below) where you and your spouse can choose to own the vehicle as "joint tenants with right of survivorship (JTWROS). When you make this election, when the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse just keeps on owning the vehicle - no need for an affidavit of transfer or probate.
Making use of this option will give your surviving spouse one less thing to fret about. That may seem small, but in the midst of grieving and changing accounts, and getting Social Security (or, worse, the Texas Teacher Retirement System - don't GET me started) to respond, and probate, anything that lessens the burden helps immensely. Do each other a favor: sign the JTWROS statement on your car title.
As always, this blog is based on Texas law because I'm a Texas lawyer, and it shouldn't be construed as legal advice, just legal information. Every case is different, so if this raises questions in your mind, please consult a lawyer who deals in this sort of thing.
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