Gaithersburg, MD asked in Consumer Law and Civil Litigation for Maryland

Q: A car is under parent name, but I pay car note and insurance which is under my name

4 years ago, I traded in a car for another. It was put under a parents name. I pay the car note and pay for insurance which is under my name. I’ve been hearing that as soon as car is fully paid for, they are going to claim it stolen and take the car. They haven’t allowed me to update registration on car and won’t sign car over to me. We don’t speak at the moment and it’s a volatile situation

2 Lawyer Answers
Ronald V. Miller Jr.
Ronald V. Miller Jr.
PREMIUM
Answered
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: The good news is do you have possession of the car. I suspect the police are going to be reluctant to get involved in this family dispute particularly if you have evidence of their plan to wait until you pay it off and then claim the vehicle was stolen (and the evidence you pay for the vehicle and hold the car insurance on). But I’m not a criminal lawyers and a criminal lawyer to chime in on that point.

That said, your parents do own the car. That is a problem. So if they insist on getting the car back and have the gumption to take legal action, I think they will get the car back.

From a non-legal perspective, I’m sorry for what you’re going through with your parents blackmailing you and threatening to accuse you of a crime. I suspect they wouldn’t do that but even threatening it is awful. I would do anything you could to get rid of that car, stop paying insurance for it, and get your own car so you are no longer depending upon them in anyway.

Mark Oakley
Mark Oakley
Answered
  • Rockville, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: Gather all your evidence of payments, trading in your prior car as the downpayment, cost of oil changes and maintenence, insurance premiums and policies issued in your name, as well as any evidence of your continuous possession and exclusive use of the vehicle since it was purchased. They may have legal title, but you have what appears to be an agreed arrangement by which you are buying and paying for the car, with exclusive right to use and possess it, and perhaps there was some understanding that they would transfer ownership to you once you paid it off. You argue you have "equitable title." If they try to take possession of it, you can sue them to (1) obtain a court judgment requiring them to specifically perform their end of the bargain, and transfer ownership as agreed (you need to prove that agreement); or (2) in the alternative, sue for the money you spent to purchase the car that they now claim ownership over--the legal theory is "unjust enrichment," and they should not reap the benefit of owning the car without paying you back for what you spent to buy it for them. If the police come calling, all the evidence you gather now, and the years of auto insurance policies on the car in your name, will go a long way to prove that you had their consensual possession of the vehicle, which negates the possibility of it being theft.

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