Maryland Probate

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 property can be given to others. This process is referred to as probate or estate administration. In Maryland the Orphans Court in the county in which the decedent was a resident has jurisdiction over cases related to property of decedents and serve as the probate court. While all estates must go through an administration process, estates with limited assets may be eligible for an alternative process. Otherwise, all estates must go through a traditional probate process. As part of initiating an estate matter, a personal representative is appointed by an Orphans Court judge. They are responsible for taking care of the estate during probate. Probate can take a long time and it can be expensive. In fact, the process generally takes about a year.

Administration Process

If there is a will, first it must be submitted to the court and the court must review it for validity. If the judge concludes that it meets the legal requirements, it will be admitted to probate and administration can begin. The personal representative is required to identify estate assets, determine their value, and avoid taking actions that would diminish the value of the estate. They must also pay creditors and pay taxes. Ultimately, they must distribute the remaining assets.

Problems During Probate

Although probate involves routine activities, it is important to understand that it can be complicated and is not always problem free. Disputes occur. When they cannot be resolved through negotiation, they must be resolved by litigating the issues in court. 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 object and initiate a type of probate litigation called a will contest.

Litigation can develop over unpaid claims. If the personal representative denies a creditor’s claim, the creditor can choose to file a lawsuit in an effort to get the claim approved and paid.

Litigation can also result if a beneficiary or heir believes that the personal representative is performing their job poorly and is putting the estate in jeopardy. The personal representative is held to high standard. They must perform their job with honesty and care, and with the best interests of the estate in mind. If they do not, they can be challenged in court.

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. Essentially, Maryland creates a will for decedent’s who fail to make one themselves. This “will” describes which of the decedent’s relatives are entitled to inherit.

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 personal representative, 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 personal representative would be authorized to pay funeral expenses and allowances to the surviving spouse and children. However, creditors are given a month after the personal representative’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.

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