Can Someone Be the OWner of a Car or Vehicle if They Haven't Registered Title in Their Name?

Full Question:

If I have 2 vehicles that were given to my ex step father in the divorce in 2001 from my mama and he never had them titled to himself or anyone else, he died in January of 2009 and willed the two vehicles to his son, but the titles are still in my Mama's name and she has since passed on June 21, 2011 and I am her only child and beneficiary and executor of all her personal property. The vehicles are still on my mama's property what are my rights to the vehicles? They have had 2 and 1/2 years to come get the vehicles and have just now sent people onto the property without permission to remove one of the vehicles and a police report was done, the person who removed the vehicle was given 48 hours to return the vehicle and no charges would be pressed against him for trespassing. Are the vehicles considered abandoned and can I legally dispose of them once/if titles are put in my name? Or are the vehicles considered their legal property without a legal title to said vehicles?
07/11/2011   |   Category: Abandoned Property   |   State: Mississippi   |   #25168

Answer:

The sons may claim they have equitable title to the vehicles, which basically says in te interest of justice it belongs to them, despite a lack of legal formality, such as recording a document. Equitable title is the beneficial interest of a person whom equity regards as the real owner but the legal right vests with another. For example, a purchaser under a contract for sale has equitable title to the property s/he intended to purchase. Therefore, a person who is awarded ownership in a divorce decree may claim equitable title, which not registered title, of a vehicle.

Typically when a person fails to pick up property from a person holding the items temporarily, the holder will send a notice stating that after a stated time period, the item will be deemed abandoned and subject to sale or other disposal. A copy of the notice should be kept for the holder's own records. We suggest calling the local police department, as local areas have abandoned vehicle laws that vary by local area.

When a person who is not a landlord agrees to hold property for another, a bailment is created. There are different types of bailments- "bailments for hire" in which the custodian (bailee) is paid, "constructive bailment" when the circumstances create an obligation upon the custodian to protect the goods, and "gratuitous bailment" in which there is no payment, but the bailee is still responsible. There is a lower standard of care imposed upon the bailee in a gratuitous bailment, and the parties may contract to hold the bailee free from liability in any bailment. As the law of bailments establishes a lower standard of care for the bailee in a gratuitous bailment agreement, such an agreement or receipt should indicate explicitly that the bailee is acting without compensation. When a bailment is for the exclusive benefit of the bailee, the bailee owes a duty of extraordinary care. If the bailment is for the mutual benefit of the bailee and bailor, the bailee owes a duty of ordinary care. A gratuitous bailee must use only slight care and is liable only for gross negligence. To create a bailment, the alleged bailee must have actual physical control with the intent to possess. Physical control and intent to possess will be interpreted according to the expectations of the parties. If a court thinks that liability would be unexpected or unfair, it can usually find that the defendant did not have “physical control” or “intent to possess.” For example, courts are more likely to find a bailment of a car exists in a garage with an attendant than in a park and lock garage.

If a bailee fails to use proper care, it may be liable to the bailor for resulting damages. If a new item is returned used, the damages are typically the difference in value between the item when new and the item when used. The court often uses locally advertised rates for a similar product to establish values.