Maine Probate

Maine’s probate law provides rules for the organized transfer of the property of someone who has passed away. The court must supervise the estate of a decedent and authorize the transfer of its assets regardless of whether the decedent left a will. To open up an estate and begin the process, a petition, the will, if there is one, and the death certificate must be filed with the Probate Court. There are 16 Probate Courts and judges, one for each county. Initiating and managing the probate process is necessary but can be difficult without a general understanding of the process.

Probate

Probate is often used to describe both the process of the will being proved and as well as the administration process which includes the decedent’s financial affairs being finalized and their assets being legally transferring to their family, friends, or institutions according to the terms of their will or according to Maine law. The personal representative is responsible for ensuring that these tasks are completed, and the process is overseen by the Probate Court. Generally, the probate process takes about 9-12 months. However, it can take longer if there are complications such as litigation, and it can take less time if the estate has minimal assets and is uncomplicated.

In order to settle the estate, the following steps must be completed:

  • Inventory. The personal representative must identify the assets in the probate estate, secure them, and appraise them. Once the personal representative takes over the management of the estate, it is their responsibility to protect those assets so that the value of the estate does not decline. The personal representative must also determine the value of the estate as that will determine whether there are enough assets to pay estate debt and what will be available to distribute to beneficiaries and heirs.
  • Debt and expenses. The personal representative must pay estate debt. Claimants are given a timeframe to file claims against the estate. The personal representative has an obligation to review all claims that are timely filed and pay the valid ones. In addition, the personal representative must pay expenses of administration and outstanding taxes.
  • Asset distribution. The personal representative is responsible for distributing estate assets. However, debts, expenses, and taxes must be paid first. If the decedent left a will, then it will direct how the assets are to be distributed. Otherwise, the personal representative must follow Maine’s intestacy rules and distribute to the decedent’s next of kin. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit.18-A, § 2-101 et seq.

Probate Litigation

The process of settling the estate of a loved one can become contentious. Raw emotions, complicated family history, and differing interests are all present during the process. The result can be disputes that the parties are not able to settle on their own. The court must get involved.

Probate disputes can center on a wide variety of issues such as a will challenge, breach of fiduciary duty, will construction, guardianship, or dispute over ownership of estate assets. Regardless of the reason for the dispute, it can result in a delay in the process and added expense to the estate.

Small Estate Procedures

In Maine probate can take 9 months to a year. The actual amount of time depends on a number of factors including the size of the estate and whether there are complications. However, there is an alternative to the formal, long probate process that is available to small estates that meet the eligibility requirements.

Under the summary administrative procedure the personal representative, without giving notice to creditors, may immediately distribute estate assets to those entitled to those assets and file a closing statement with the probate court. To qualify for this procedure, the value of the estate cannot exceed the homestead allowance, exempt property, family allowance, administration expenses, funeral expenses, and the decedent’s medical expenses. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit.18-A, § 3-1203.

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