Transferring car ownership after death of owner: A harrowing experience


Representational image: Meenambakkam RTO office at Alandur. Pic: Laasya Shekhar

The saga of transferring my late father-in-law’s car registration/title to my mother-in-law began on August 2, 2018. We had put together all the necessary documents after reviewing (not the RTO website) and speaking to other people who had gone through this process.

The required documents included:

  1. The original RC book
  2. Form 31
  3. Death certificate.
  4. Legal heir certificate issued by the Tahsildar’s office.
  5. Affidavits from the other legal heirs (my husband and his sister) that they had relinquished their rights in favour of the applicant (their mother) – these affidavits were on printed on stamp paper and notarized
  6. A copy of applicant’s PAN card
  7. A copy of applicant’s Aadhaar card
  8. Two passport-sized photographs
  9. Record of pollution check of vehicle
  10. Car insurance documentation
  11. Transfer fee

A Good Samaritan friend agreed to help me navigate through this process. We took the entire package to the RTO assuming that we would come out with a new RC book in my mother-in-law’s name. If only we knew how laughably naive that expectation was!

The ordeal begins…

The first objection raised by one of the RTO officials was that the two legal heirs had made a single notarized affidavit that they had no objection to relinquishing their rights in favor of their mother. The affidavit was properly drawn up, signed by both legal heirs, and appropriately notarized. But no, we were told that we needed separate affidavits from each legal heir. We rushed out and made the appropriate changes, and returned to the RTO on the following day with two separate affidavits.

Next, we were told that the legal heir certificate had been issued seven months prior to the date of the RTO application. This apparently was no longer valid in the eyes of the RTO, and the status of the legal heir certificate needed to be re-validated by the Tahsildar’s office. This was a new curve ball, but we rolled with it. We rushed to the Tahsildar’s office immediately. Fortunately for us, he was available, and we described our problem to him, and requested him to give us a letter stating that the previously issued legal heir certificate was still valid.

The Tahsildar was rightfully annoyed, because there are no government guidelines to re-validate documents like a legal heir certificate. We discussed this for a few minutes, and he was increasingly upset at being asked to accede to frivolous demands by the RTO. He finally bluntly refused to do it. After a lot of pleading, he said that the only thing he would suggest was to make a true copy of the legal heir certificate, and get it stamped by his office with the current date on it. We were happy enough with this solution, and left to get the true copies made.

… and continues!

If only it had ended there!

Now we were told that the true copies needed to be typed out on stamp paper exactly identical to the original legal heir certificate. There was a 20-rupee fee for each true copy that was signed/stamped by the Tahsildar’s office. (Here is a fun fact: the Tahsildar’s office does not accept any payments for anything. They gave us a challan for 3 true copies (Rs. 60 fee) and this fee needed to be paid at the State Bank of India (Treasury Department), which was approximately 20 km away!!!).

A few days passed as the copies were being made, payment was made to SBI and by then, we had hit the weekend. We went back to the Tahsildar’s office bright and early on Monday morning. After waiting for about 3 hours, we were able to get the true copies stamped/signed with the date on it. Of course there was a lot of uncertainty in the process until the stamp actually hit the paper.

We rushed back to the RTO with the true copies of the legal heir certificate and the two separate affidavits from the legal heirs. Although I had lost my naïveté by then, I honestly expected that we would get the job done that day. Oh boy…was I wrong!

There was yet another wrinkle in our case. Both the legal heirs (who were relinquishing their rights to the car) had gone home (to New York) by this point. Now we were told that their notarized affidavits were worthless because “notaries cannot be trusted”. (then why bother to notarise any document at all? But that is another story)  Therefore, since they had both gone back to New York, their affidavits now needed to be attested by the Indian Consulate in New York.

We argued our case (pleaded, literally), and finally managed to convince the person in charge that we were trustworthy and desperate to finish the process. He reluctantly consented to issue a new RC book!! Our Good Samaritan friend kindly agreed to finish off the process on our behalf so that I would not have to change my travel plans. He was asked to go back to the RTO after a week to pay the transfer fee and pick up the new RC book.

When you get it, finally!

The day of pick-up was unexpectedly postponed because of the death of an eminent person, then postponed because of a religious holiday, then postponed because the person in charge of our case was on vacation, then postponed because they had “misplaced” the file with all our paperwork. At long last, our friend picked up the new RC book after exactly a month of starting the process.

It is awful that such a simple process can be made this tortuous, especially in cases like this when the family is already grieving the death of a loved one. It is true that our case was complicated by the fact that the legal heirs did not live in Chennai, but it is definitely not an uncommon situation, and I am sure we are not the first family to navigate this process.

Putting the entire process online, and making it completely transparent, has to be the way forward. (A lawyer friend later told me that legal heir certificates have no expiry date, and it was quite ridiculous of the RTO to have demanded an updated one!) Indians are known for their proficiency in devising software solutions for some of the biggest companies of the world. It’s a shame that our talent cannot be used to make our government offices run more efficiently.

Support Citizen Matters - independent, Reader-funded media that covers your city like no other.DONATE
About Padma Viswanathan 1 Article
Padma Viswanathan lives in New York but remains a Chennaivasi at heart. She writes for scientific journals, and is passionate about civic issues


  1. This was well said “Indians are known for their proficiency in devising software solutions for some of the biggest companies of the world. It’s a shame that our talent cannot be used to make our government offices run more efficiently”

  2. The process is rather too simple w.r.t RTO. When you said that they were designing new rules it was obvious they are pushing you to bribe them to make it easy. They are not corrupt, they would just make you corrupt with impossible dynamic rules. Glad that you did it the legal way irrespective of all the hurdles. Great work.

    • This list is really helpful. Thanks. But the questions there are mostly for Bangalore. Do you have it for other cities as well

  3. Totally understand the frustration here. We had to jump over hurdles to get a legal heir certificate when my father in law passed away. Took almost 4 months to receive it. And the requirement was that we had to donate to Flag Day. And sometimes I think they especially enjoy making us jump through hoops once they realize we are NRIs. And more frustrating that that is the question of why they cannot give us the entire set of rules or the correct process / forms on day 1 itself?

Comments are closed.