Problems with car titles? Who can help?
I ordinarily write about problems that I can help ‘fix’. Maybe this time, the question is whether I can prevent a problem from surfacing for those who read this.
Sometimes people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to drive a vehicle. If you are ineligible for a license, you may not be eligible to transfer title to a vehicle to your name, though. Some have decided to buy a vehicle and have it registered in the name of a relative or friend who does have a drivers license, and when they do this, they are basically making a gift to their relative or friend. If you drive without a license, you can get a ticket. If you drive without insurance, you can get cited for that violation, also. Additionally, the friend may be charged with allowing an unlicensed person to drive their vehicle, which can have consequences in court with fines, as well as insurance consequences, and in certain circumstances could subject the vehicle to forfeiture. And if you were to have an accident, the registered owner’s insurance can come back against you for damages caused by your negligence.
But what if you have second thoughts about having spent $13,000 on that 2012 Honda Civic, and want it ‘back’? Did you realize that the friend in whose name you placed it now “OWNS” it, legally? So if you take the vehicle after the friend demands its return, you may be charged with some level of car theft, unauthorized use, or fraud. Not a desirable outcome.
About on a weekly basis, I have a client come to complain that he wants his car, and the person who is “holding title” to it will not give it back or transfer title. There is the legal problem of “registered owner”. Then there is the argument that the client made an investment of the car, has used the car exclusively for a couple years, and wants it placed in his own name, as the ‘equitable owner’ of the vehicle. Sounds reasonable? Perhaps. But if you are seeking an equitable remedy like this, you must have what the Court would call “clean hands” in the matter. That may be very hard to prove.
Prevention is usually the best defense, before you find yourself—and your friend—in trouble. Breaking the law is not worth the risk.