When someone passes away in Maryland, their property must be disposed of. However, under the Maryland Estates & Trust Code, there is a legal process required before title to a decedent’s property can be legally transferred to others. This process is called probate. In Maryland the Orphans Court in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of their death has jurisdiction over the probate case. While all estates must go through an administration process, if the estate is small it may qualify for a simpler process. Otherwise all estates must go through a traditional probate process. Once a probate case is open, a personal representative appointed by an Orphans Court judge is responsible for managing the estate during probate. Probate can take a long time and it can be expensive. In fact, the process generally takes about a year. Note that the administration process can be complicated. Whether you are personal representative or have another role in the process, consider contacting an experienced Maryland probate lawyer.
Probate Administration in Maryland
The first step in probate is for someone, generally the personal representative named in the will or a family member, to petition the court to open the estate. Before admitting the will to probate the judge will review it to make sure that it meets the technical requirements of the Maryland Estates & Trust code. If the judge is satisfied that the will is valid, the judge will admit it to probate. The personal representative can then move forward with settling the estate.
The personal representative must collect the assets, secure them, and determine their value. Estate debts must be paid and claims against the estate addressed. Outstanding tax returns must be filed and taxes paid. Finally, the personal representative must distribute the assets that remain in the estate after debts, expenses, and taxes are paid. To learn more about the details of the process, contact an experienced Maryland probate lawyer.
Problems During Probate
Although probate involves routine activities, it is important to understand that probate can be complicated and is not always problem free. Probate disputes occur. When they cannot be resolved through negotiation, they must be resolved by litigating the issues in court. This is referred to as probate litigation. For example, problems can develop at the beginning of the process when the will is filed. Beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors are notified. As a result, if someone believes that the will is invalid and should not be probated, they can file an objection and initiate a type of probate litigation called a will contest. Defending or initiating a will contest require the help of an experienced probate attorney in Maryland.
Creditors can initiate litigation if the personal representative refuses to pay a claim. Personal representatives are required to pay estate debts, but they are also required to defend the estate against claims that they believe to be invalid or unsubstantiated. Refusing to pay a claim may result in the creditor or claimant suing the estate demanding payment.
Disputes can also develop due to actions of the personal representative that beneficiaries or heirs find problematic. For example, mismanagement of estate assets and other poor behavior on the part of the personal representative can wreak havoc on the administration process and the value of the estate. If a beneficiary or heir believes that personal representative is mishandling estate assets, they can petition the court to order the personal representative to account for their activities.
Absence of a Will
If a decedent passes away without leaving a will the personal representative will be required to distribute estate assets to the decedent’s heirs based on Maryland’s laws of intestate succession. Md. Code Est. & Trusts §§ 3-101 et seq. Under the law, who inherits depends on what relatives the decedent has. If the decedent has children or a surviving spouse, they would be the primary heirs and would inherit the entire estate. Otherwise, the estate would go to other blood relatives based on a statutory order of priority. As an experienced probate attorney serving Maryland will explain, if there are questions as to whether someone is truly related to the decedent, the court may require the person to prove right to inherit through a kinship hearing.
Small Estate Administration
Maryland has a simplified probate process for small estates. To be eligible for this process, the value of the probate estate must be no more than $50,000 or, if the solo beneficiary is the surviving spouse, the value of the probate estate must be no more than $100,000.
The small estate process is initiated when the executor, surviving spouse, adult child, grandchild, or other relative files a Small Estate Petition for Administration with the Orphans Court or Register of Wills that has jurisdiction over the estate. The petition must include a list of the estate assets and debts. After the court accepts the petition, the executor would be authorized to pay funeral expenses and allowances to the surviving spouse and children. However, creditors are given a month after the executor’s appointment or 6 months after the decedent’s death, whichever is shorter, to file claims against the estate. Once those claims are paid, the balance of the estate can be distributed according to the will or the intestate succession statute.