Maryland Estate Probate
Losing a loved one is difficult enough without the added stress of finishing up their affairs and dealing with the probate process. There are many things to take care of when it comes to administering your loved one’s estate. There are accounts to close, paperwork to prepare and file, and maybe even debts, assets or relatives you have never known about. It’s worth getting the assistance of a Maryland estate administration lawyer who can provide guidance and support during this complicated and overwhelming process. To help you understand how someone’s assets are handled after death, here is your guide to the Maryland probate process.
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal process that is handled by the Orphan’s Court when a person dies and leaves behind an estate. During this process, three key issues are addressed:
- Determining whether the will is valid
- Settling debts and financial responsibilities of the deceased
- Making sure the assets are properly distributed to heirs and beneficiaries
In Maryland, the probate process is necessary if the value of the assets is greater than the value of the debts. There are a few ways to avoid the probate process, but they have to be considered by the estate owner while he or she is still alive. Generally, if any of the assets are solely owned by the deceased, probate is needed to ensure proper distribution.
How Does Probate Work?
After a person dies, someone must file the original will along with any amendments (codicils) with the Register of Wills. Most wills identify a “personal representative” (the term used in Maryland) or “executor” who will be responsible for handling the estate administration process upon the person’s passing. Being a personal representative is both an honor and a burden, especially if there is a large estate to take care of. Some of the personal representative’s responsibilities include:
- Locating and making an inventory of all assets
- Distributing the assets between the named heirs
- Closing accounts and updating state and federal agencies on behalf of the deceased
- Paying ongoing expenses and settling debts
- Deciding whether to sell some of the assets
- Handling the probate process if it’s necessary
If you are named as the personal representative in a Last Will and Testament, you have the right to refuse this title and responsibilities that come with it. In this case, and also if the Last Will and Testament doesn’t name a personal representative, the Orphan’s Court will appoint someone else, typically the next closest family member entitled to appointment.
What if There is No Will?
If the deceased didn’t leave a will, then the distribution of the assets will be conducted according to Maryland’s laws of intestacy or, in other words, Maryland law has created a will by statute for decedents who die without making their own will while living. The Orphan’s Court will appoint a personal representative according to statutory priority of entitlement to appointment of next of kin and creditors.
Opening an Estate
If the deceased has any property solely in their name, then an estate will likely need to be opened by the personal representative. Before opening an estate, you will need to conduct an evaluation of the assets. Depending on the value of the assets, you can open either a regular or small estate. In Maryland, the threshold between the two is $50,000 ($100,000 if the spouse is the sole heir). At this point, you will also determine which assets are owned solely by the deceased and, therefore, are subject to probate. If they qualify for the small estate, you can take advantage of the simplified probate proceedings of a small estate. A regular estate is more complex and requires more formal proceedings than a small estate.
Administering the Estate
Once the estate is established, it’s time to distribute the assets as required by law and requested by the deceased. Debts are typically handled first and all known creditors are repaid from the assets of the estate prior to any distribution to beneficiaries. Unknown creditors may file claims to receive their money back, but they have a deadline to do this—in Maryland it’s six months after the date of death. After debts are settled, appropriate taxes are filed and the rest of the estate is then distributed to heirs. Although it sounds pretty straightforward, there are many little details, from court-imposed deadlines to lots of complex paperwork, that make administering and closing an estate a time consuming and tedious process.
If you are not sure what options you have or how to handle your loved one’s estate, contact the Law Offices of Gary W. Desper, your local Maryland estate administration lawyer. We will be able to provide legal advice and make sure both your loved one’s last wishes and Maryland laws are respected and followed.