Tip: Check car titles to see if your spouse is listed

If you’re part of an “average American household,” that likely means that you own 1.927 cars. (source). In many marriages, all income and assets are considered jointly owned, which includes vehicles. You should make sure that the set up of your legal life – including the ownership of your cars – reflects the reality of your married life.   

 The fact is, that if you and your spouse act as if you jointly own a vehicle, but the paperwork doesn’t show that, then you could be leaving your spouse high and dry if something happened to you.   

 Why would you want to put a spouse on a car title:  

  • Proof of ownership. Your spouse might be required to prove ownership to the police or to an insurance company. Doing that with a verbal agreement is impossible.  
  • Paying for a car with joint assets. If you’re paying for a car using money from a joint account, then that car is most likely a join asset, regardless of whose name is on the title. You should streamline and clarify the ownership documents to match the reality.  
  • Probate freezes assets. If you die and only your name is on the car, it gets tied up in the probate estate and your spouse is no longer allowed to drive it. This is especially painful if there is a loan on the vehicle and the car is financially under water.    

Here are some reasons why you wouldn’t want to put your spouse on your car:  

  • Finances. Maybe you can’t qualify for the car loan if the loan is jointly held;  
  • Separate property. Some couples like to maintain “his” and “hers” property.  
  • Work vehicle. If the care is solely used as a work vehicle, then the car’s ownership should reflect that. If your spouse is not a part of the business, then your spouse should not drive or be listed on the vehicle.