The case of In re Estate of Theodore George recently concluded, which involved a daughter who appealed a civil court’s determination that her deceased father was the sole owner of a vehicle at the time of his death and that the vehicle was part of the father’s estate at the time of his death.The deceased man purchased the vehicle in 1992. Later in 1994, the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles issued a Certificate of Title to the decedent in his name only. The copy of the title contained no assignment of ownership to the daughter. In 2006, the deceased man submitted a Vermont Registration, Tax, and Title Application to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The deceased man’s name was listed in the space provided on the form for the owner, while the daughter’s name was listed in the space for co-owners. A handwritten annotation next to the daughter’s name says “add co-owner”. The form also advised applicants to select rights of survivorship if more than one owner is listed, but the deceased man made no indication of the daughter’s role as a survivor. At the form’s bottom, the line for the co-owner’s signature was blank while the deceased man signed the form. No bill of sale accompanied the application. The DMV issued certificates naming both the daughter and the deceased man for 2012 to 2013, 2014 to 2015, and 2017 to 2018.
The daughter appealed the case and argued that the deceased man’s act in changing the registration to reflect joint ownership transferred interest in the vehicle to her. In the alternate, the daughter argued that her late father’s act demonstrated his intent to make a gift of joint ownership. The Vermont Supreme Court later concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the deceased man transferred an interest in the vehicle to the daughter under either theory.