Am I liable if my sons cause an accident?May 31, 2012: 5:05 AM ET
I have two sons, one living at home. Both of their cars are still in my name. Could I be liable for an accident? Should I transfer ownership to them? –G.V., Minneapolis
In short: Yes and yes. "In almost all states, the title owner of an automobile can be liable for injuries that are caused by a driver," says Steve Gursten, a Michigan attorney who's president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association. In other words, if one of your sons causes a serious accident, you could be added as a defendant in a suit. And because you likely have more assets than your sons, you have more to lose.
If you don't transfer ownership to your sons, at the very least, you should protect yourself. "You should have great insurance and possibly an umbrella policy," says Julie Phillips, an attorney at Worley Law in Columbus, Ohio. "If you don't have sufficient insurance, you can lose your personal assets if a judgment is won against you." In other words, you probably want to carry more than the state-mandated minimums on your auto insurance. And you can typically get an umbrella policy from the insurer of your home or autos. A $1 million umbrella policy might cost $200 to $300.
Or you could transfer ownership to your sons, which may only require a trip to your local DMV and a few modest fees. It will also probably result in a bump in insurance premiums, since your sons will be the insured drivers. "It's a cost-benefit analysis," Phillips says. "Insurance rates are going to go up, but if the child does cause an accident, the parents aren't directly liable."
— Kate Ashford