Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures Manual

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Section 12 of 38

Chapter 11: Transfers

11.105 Letters of Administration

Chapter 11 Transfers

11.105 Letters of Administration (VC § 5909)

When a person dies without leaving a will and an interested party (usually an heir) files a petition with the Superior Court, the court appoints an administrator or administratrix to administer the estate of the deceased and dispose of any property. The appointed administrator is given Letters of Administration by the court.

The administrator may not grant power of attorney to another individual to act on their behalf for the estate. However, when the public administrator is the administrator of an estate, a deputy public administrator may countersign for the public administrator.

Continue to follow current procedures in the Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures Manual and/or Vehicle Industry News memos for the type of application.

In addition to the documents normally required for the application for administrator/executor, the following must be submitted:

  • A copy of the California or out-of-state court-certified Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration, or Letters of Administration with Will Annexed naming/appointing the individual as the administrator/executor of the decedent’s will/estate for each deceased registered owner.
  • Documents signed by the administrator/executor for the registered owner (such as, Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents [REG 156] form, Application for Replacement or Transfer of Title [REG 227] form, Notice of Change of Address [DMV 14] form, etc.). Example: William Smith, Executor of the Estate of John Doe, Deceased.
  • If the registered owner had disabled or special recognition license plates that are subject to mandatory surrender rules, the license plates must be surrendered if the application is presented within the mandatory surrender period (60 days or upon the expiration of the vehicle registration, whichever occurs first).


  • A surviving spouse may retain the special recognition license plates referenced below on the vehicle or reassign them to another vehicle registered to the spouse until the spouse is deceased.
  • A surviving spouse or, in the absence (death) of the surviving spouse, an eligible member of the decedent’s family may retain one of the special recognition license plates referenced below (except Pearl Harbor Survivor) as a family heirloom. New license plates must be assigned to the vehicle with the appropriate type license.
  • The California Certificate of Title signed for the deceased owner and countersigned by the administrator/administratrix.

Example: Lynn Smith, Administratrix of the Estate of Richard Roe

  • The original, certified copy, or photocopy of certified copies of the Letters of Administration. Letters of Administration issued by an out-of-state court are acceptable.

Other Letters Acceptable for Transfer:

  • Letters of Administration with Will Annexed may be accepted for the same purposes as Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary. Letters of Administration with Will Annexed provide that the person designated has the same authority as the executor of a will.
  • Letters Special Administration may be accepted for transferring vehicle ownership when they state that the appointee has “full authority” or “limited authority” and are supported by court documentation specifically covering the transfer of a property interest, or “no authority without a specific court order” and are supported by that court order.

When presented with Letters Special Administration indicating other than “full authority,” carefully inspect the letter and supporting documents to ensure that they cover the transfer of the vehicle.

  • Use tax, if applicable.
  • Appointment letters are not accepted unless they are certified to be a true copy by the clerk of the court. Any other entries on the documents, such as an “Endorsed” rubber stamp, do not constitute certification and are not acceptable.

The designated administrator/executor of an estate may perform all actions that the deceased person(s) could have performed regarding vehicle/vessel applications, including, but not limited to, changing an address, registering a vehicle/vessel, and obtaining replacements and substitutes.

The letter and supporting documents should be carefully inspected to ensure that they cover the transfer of the vehicle, when presented with Letters Special Administration indicating other than “full authority.”

Special recognition license plates that may be retained by the surviving spouse:

  • Firefighters
  • Legion of Valor
  • Pearl Harbor Survivor (cannot be retained as an heirloom)
  • Congressional Medal of Honor
  • Purple Heart Recipient
  • Former Prisoner of War (POW)