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Vessel Registration

Registering or Purchasing an Inherited Boat

When a person dies, title to their property, including any vessels they owned, becomes vested in another person(s). A formal legal process guides this action. Legal documents may be available to show who gained ownership of a vessel from the estate, or who has legal authority, such as an Executor or Administrator of an estate, to dispose of a vessel.

By statute, vessels may only be registered by the legal owner (52-7-5). If a living legal owner sells a vessel, a bill of sale from the owner and the owner’s registration card are sufficient to transfer the vessel registration to the new owner. Obviously, when the owner of a vessel is deceased, they are unable to sign a bill of sale. The person gaining the vessel from an estate might desire to transfer the vessel registration into their name, or may desire to sell the vessel to another person and the registration would be transferred from the deceased to the buyer’s name.

To transfer registration, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must have a legal document reflecting the change in ownership of the vessel. We have past instances where we learn ownership of a vessel is in dispute. For example, someone may have sold a deceased's vessel to a third party and others in the family or spouse claim the seller had no ownership claim to legally sell the vessel. Therefore, the person that sold the boat was not the owner and the buyer is unable to legally transfer registration.

Letters of Testamentary/Administration, Probated Last Will and Testament, and Year’s Support are examples of some legal documents that could show a transfer of vessel ownership from a deceased’s estate to a new owner. An Affidavit of Inheritance form from DNR may be used to transfer registration to the inheritor when the deceased left no will or left a will that is not to be probated because it contains only limited assets. A certified copy of the deceased’s death certificate must accompany this completed and signed form. If the will is not to be probated because it contains only limited assets, a copy of the non-probated will must accompany this form. If there is only one heir, a certified copy of No Administration Necessary from Probate Court may be submitted in lieu of the Affidavit of Inheritance. An Affidavit of Vessel Ownership may also be used to transfer ownership if the documents described above cannot be obtained.