Death and Traffic Tickets
Traffic offenses are usually minor crimes, but they can get serious if you get a lot of them, or if you choose to ignore them. Unpaid traffic tickets can result in expensive fines, higher insurance rates, driver's license suspension, misdemeanor or felony charges, or even arrest or jail time.
But what happens if a person passes away with outstanding traffic tickets? If a person dies with unpaid traffic tickets, it is likely that his or her estate will be responsible for paying for the tickets, in the same way it is responsible for other forms of debt. However, this presumes that the tickets were already adjudicated before the ticket holder's death.
How Due Process Applies to Traffic Court
Generally, when a traffic ticket is issued, the recipient agrees to either show up at the appointed court date or pay the fine before that date, thereby pleading guilty. If the person with the ticket dies before the court date, then it is likely that the ticket will be dropped because due process cannot take place.
If the court date passed by the time the person died and the person failed to appear or plead guilty, the person's estate is likely responsible for the outstanding fees.
Keep in mind that due process within traffic court is established at the state and local level, and some areas provide ticket holders with far less due process protection than others. It's important to consult with the traffic court where a ticket was issued for details on process.
Is the New Owner of a Vehicle Responsible for Outstanding Tickets?
In many cases, when a person passes away, his or her property is passed down to relatives or friends. If someone intends to receive a vehicle from a deceased friend or relative who has outstanding traffic violations, it is likely that the vehicle will not be inherited until the outstanding traffic tickets are settled by the deceased person's estate.
It is possible that the friend or relative will never actually receive the vehicle if there are not enough other assets to settle the fines and fees. It is a good idea for the person intending to receive the vehicle and/or the executor of the deceased person's estate to consult with a local probate/estate administration lawyer for specific guidance.