Both real property and personal property can be owned by more than one person. A car, for example, is often owned by a married couple jointly or by a parent and child as co-owners. Whether one owner may sell the vehicle without the consent of the other owner depends on the laws of the state where the vehicle is titled and the wording on the title itself.
Individual State Laws
Individual state laws will govern the transfer of title to a vehicle as well as the meaning of various types of co-ownership in personal property. Before you consider selling a vehicle that another person has a legal ownership interest in, or purchasing a car that has more than one name on the title, check your state laws.
The department of motor vehicles, or the agency responsible for transferring titles, is a good place to start. For example, in California, the title needs to be signed by all owners during the sale process.
Read More: California Laws on Auto Title Loans
Connector Words in the Title
As a general rule, a title held by more than one person will use the word "and" or the word "or" to connect the names of the owners of the vehicle. In most cases, when the word "and" is used, it basically means that each owner owns an equal percentage of the vehicle. When "and" is used, you generally need all owners of the vehicle to consent to the sale and sign the title in order to sell the vehicle.
When the word "or" is used to connect the owners, it essentially means that any of the owners can be considered to own the vehicle alone. In this case, any of the owners may sell the vehicle without consent of the other owners, and there is no need for all owners to sign the title in order for it to be transferred.
Rights of Survivorship and Transfer on Death
In some states, a vehicle can be titled in one person's name with "rights of survivorship" or "transfer on death" or other similar language included on the title. In this case, the vehicle is typically owned by one person, but it automatically transfers upon her death to another person designated as the beneficiary on the title.
Read More: How to Transfer Property After a Death
Considerations Before Selling
If you attempt to sell a car without the consent of a required co-owner, it could be considered a crime. If you purchase a vehicle without the consent of a required owner, you will not be able to transfer the title or register the vehicle.
Although some states allow property to transfer immediately upon death, the beneficiary is typically required to file an affidavit with the probate court or some other type of document with the appropriate titling agency, to make the transfer final. Whether you are the seller or the purchaser in a situation like this, make sure you follow proper procedures or ask for proof that the proper procedures have been followed.
Renee Booker has been writing professionally since 2009 and was a practicing attorney for almost 10 years. She has had work published on Gadling, AOL's travel site. Booker holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Ohio State University and a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University School of Law.