Inheriting a boat or passing a title 

Could you be set to inherit a boat? Here are our top considerations if being a beneficiary of a Will includes a boat.

A group of boats lined up at a marina

What initial paperwork should I be aware of?

When you purchase a boat, you should acquire all Bills of Sale, documenting full title history and dating back to the build date of the boat. This should include a record of any change of ownership including when a person inherits a boat.

A complete history of documentation is not always available, especially with older boats, but it’s the preferential starting point. If you find yourself inheriting a boat or purchasing a boat acquired by inheritance, the documentation is all-important to record the chain of ownership. 

A beneficiary may inherit either through a Will or by way of intestacy. 

bill of sale boat inheritance

What is the inheritance process?

When the owner of a boat dies, they may well have left the boat to a beneficiary in their Will. Where there is a Will, executors will be appointed to manage and distribute the estate according to the contents of the Will. The executors have authority to deal with the estate by virtue of a Grant of Probate which is issued by the Probate Registry.  

If someone dies without having made a Will, their estate passes on to Statutory Trusts. This means the estate is divided according to statute between their surviving relatives. There is a strict formula as to who gets what. The estate is dealt with by someone, typically next of kin, taking out Letters of Administration, which again are issued by the Probate Registry.

The Probate Registry may take some months to issue the Grant of Probate/Letters of Administration depending on the complexity of the deceased’s estate and the efficiency of the executors. If the executors appoint a solicitor to act for them the process may be quicker.

We advise that the boat should not change hands whilst the Grant of Probate/Letters of Administration are awaited. This is because, executors have no legal authority to distribute the estate at this stage. Therefore, good title in the boat is not capable of being passed on to a purchaser. 

Sloop rigged modern yacht with wooden teak deck sailing on a cloudy day. A view from the deck to the bow. Panoramic view of the rocky shores of Kyles of Bute from the water. Bute island, Scotland, UK

Documentation for a beneficiary/purchaser

Once the executors are in receipt of the Grant of Probate/Letters of Administration they should issue a Bill of Sale in the executors names. This will help keep the boat's chain of ownership intact, as transferors to the beneficiary(s) as transferees. The RYA provides specific guidance in relation to the execution of the Bill of Sale under these circumstances. 

Accompanying the Bill of Sale, will be a certified copy of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. Where there is a Will, there will be a copy of that part of it which leaves the boat to the beneficiaries.

If the beneficiary decides to keep the boat, they will have a complete record of the transfer of ownership from the deceased to themselves.  If they decide to sell the boat, they will then need to execute a Bill of sale in their name as transferor to the purchaser as transferee.  They should provide all documentation supporting the chain of ownership, keeping a copy for themselves.  

Passing a boat title

Other supporting documentation

If possible, the beneficiary should also obtain all other supporting paperwork for the boat. For example, the Certificate of Registry, Builder’s Certificate, evidence of VAT status, evidence of compliance with the recreational craft regulations. As well as any other documentation that there may be, such as invoices for work, mooring receipts, harbour dues receipts, insurance details etc.

When purchasing from the executors of the deceased’s estate, once the executors are in receipt of the Grant of Probate/Letters of Administration, they should execute a Bill of Sale in favour of the purchaser. Again, the Bill of Sale should have attached to it a certified copy of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. As well as a copy of the extract of the Will together with all other supporting documentation as referred to above.

If you are purchasing from the beneficiary of the estate, the beneficiary should execute a Bill of Sale to the purchaser. Following this, they should provide the purchaser with the Bill of Sale from the executors to the beneficiary, the certified copy Grant of Probate/Letters of Administration and relevant extract from the Will. Alongside all other supporting documentation as referred to above.

If the boat is registered on Part I or Part III (SSR) of the British registry, the new owner will need to contact the registry to arrange the transfer of ownership or re-registration.

boat travelling in rough waters

Discover more 

RYA members can benefit from additional advice on this subject and other marine related matters as part of their membership benefits. 

Members can learn more about inheriting a boat or passing a title in the legal hub. For further information, members should contact the RYA Legal team.