The Widow Drives: Adventures at the DMV

Oh, dear readers, I have a tale to tell you, and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. Well, some, anyway. And now I know what I will do if I should ever buy a car with another person again.

In 2011 I was driving around in my great big Honda Odyssey minivan. It was a lovely minivan. And it served it’s purpose when we had lots of kids in the house. But in 2011 I realized that I was no longer driving around with a car full of children. And I was putting about $65.00 worth of gasoline in the car every week. So Don and I decided to buy a new car and replace the minivan. We shopped around and settled on a nice Nissan Altima Hybrid.  And as I was in seminary at the time and not working, there was no way we were getting the loan in my name. So we placed the car in Don’s name and my name, and also the loan. And then that fall Don began to have some symptoms. And by the spring of 2012 he’d been diagnosed with cancer.

Don died in June of 2013, and the car registration expired in July. And I reregistered the car. For two years. With me so far? I re-registered the car in July 2013 for two years. The car was in Don’s name and my name. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) didn’t seem to have a problem with it then. So let’s fast-forward to now.

I got a letter a couple of months ago saying that I couldn’t re-register the car without first taking Don’s name off the car. Since he’s dead. Well, OK. So I called the DMV. “Hi, I’d like to re-register my car and take my husband off the registration.”

“Sure,” says the not-very-helpful (you’ll see why soon) DMV person.  “All you need to do is send in the title…oh, you don’t have the title? No problem. You just need to get the lien-holder to release the electronic title and take your husband’s name off of it and just have your name on it. Then we can do that.”

Well, that sounds easy enough. I just need to call the lien holder. So I do. I called BB&T.  This is why I will never do any more business with BB&T again.  First, I had to find a working number for BB&T. Eventually, I did. Ah, but then I was told that for this, I had to go through a local branch office (how helpful. Never mind that we did the original loan through Nissan). The person gave me a number to a branch office. I called that branch. It wasn’t the right branch. She gave me a number to another person at another branch. I called that branch. The manager was at lunch. I called back. I finally got to speak to apparently the only person in the whole United States who could help me (but not very much).

I told her what I needed. “Oh,” says she. “We don’t usually do that. Usually we require that you refinance the vehicle.”  Um….no. Seriously? I’ve been making payments on this now four-year-old car by myself for the last two years. I’m not refinancing my car with a crappy interest rate just so that you can tell the DMV that my husband isn’t on the lien anymore.

“Thank you,” I said, “this has been ever so helpful. I’ll just pay off the car today.” I asked her for the payoff amount of the car and I sent a check to pay off the car right then. I wasn’t planning on paying off my car just now, but it was worth it to not deal with the bureaucracy.

Eventually (a few weeks later), I got the title in the mail. Of course, it still had my husband’s name on it. So today, I went to the DMV. It was scary, but it had to be done friends.

First of all, when you go to the DMV, go early. By the time I left, the line was all the way outside. Even though this took hours, and two trips, I was in better shape than if I’d waited until the sun was warm. Also, pack necessities. You could be there a while. You might want to consider a cooler.

So – my first trip to the receptionist to get a number so that I could go to the counter ended in failure. I explained what I wanted to do. I now had the title. “Do you have the death certificate?” asks the man.  “No” says I, “you sent me a letter telling me that you know my husband is dead, so clearly you already know my husband is dead. And the woman on the phone didn’t tell me I’d need it.”

“Oh, you need the death certificate to prove he’s dead. And also the will, because this doesn’t say survivor here – so you’ll need both.”  Well, isn’t that helpful. And wouldn’t that have been nice to know before.

“Well then, how about if I just re-register the car as it is now?” I ask.

“Oh no, you can’t do that, since your husband is deceased.”

Right. Well. We all seem to know that. So…..WHY DO I HAVE TO PROVE IT TO YOU AGAIN? Ahem. Pardon me. It just seemed a little silly to me that the DMV was telling me that I couldn’t register the car because my husband was dead, but they wanted me to prove to them that he was dead. Sometimes being logical seems like a curse. SO. I went back home. To get the death certificate. And to see if I could find the will.

I did find the death certificate. I executed the will two years ago. I did not find it. I will probably find it next week when I don’t need it. I returned to the DMV. The man at the counter gave me a form (the wrong form as it turns out. He neglected to give me the second form, but I went back and got it. He gave me a ticket with my number on it. D-88. I’m convinced that there is really no rhyme or reason to how these numbers are assigned. But he told me I needed a D number because I had to do two things. OK. If you say so. And then I sat down. In purgatory.

Eventually, the bell dinged, and the electronic voice said, “Now serving…D..88 at window 7” and I went over to the one VERY helpful person at the DMV. I think this is the guy who is one the helpful person in the whole Commonwealth, and they keep him there at Window 7. He looked at all my papers. He told me that the one form that the other guy gave me was the wrong form. He gave me the right form. He asked me if I had my emissions done. Nope. Dang. No worries. He was giving me a one-month registration. He was taking care of the title transfer. I would be able to register the car online now. And I’d decided to get new vanity plates anyway, which I’ve reserved online.

As it happens, I wouldn’t be able to keep my old vanity tags anyway. Nope. Because the title was being transferred. From me to…me. It’s a good thing I was planning on new ones.

This just all seems like WAY more trouble than it needed to be. This car has always been MY car! I don’t understand why BB&T couldn’t just take Don off the loan. They’ve been getting their payments uninterrupted since we bought it. I don’t understand why the DMV needed to see the death certificate since they already KNEW Don was dead. And I don’t understand why I needed to change my plates. But it’s done now. Well, most of it.

If I ever buy a car again with another person, I will make sure we have joint survivorship to avoid all of this.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

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2 thoughts on “The Widow Drives: Adventures at the DMV

  1. Oh Madelyn… I’ve been helping my 88-year-old mother with this kind of thing since my father passed away last fall. The specifics are different, but the theme is the same. They don’t make it easy. Especially the DMV, but then the DMV doesn’t make anything easy.

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