No one wants to think about his or her own death, but it’s the central fact of life. You’ve worked hard all of your life and want your assets to go to your loved ones. If you don’t have a will, the state of Maryland decides who gets your worldly goods, and that may not match your intentions. Basically, a last will and testament is a document stating how you want your assets distributed. Those who die without a will, or intestate, open their estate to all sorts of complications.
A person’s estate consists of solely-owned property or property titled in a certain way. For example, if the decedent – the deceased party – has a bank account in his own name, that account becomes part of his estate. A bank account held with his spouse, child or another person titled jointly with right of survivorship goes directly to the surviving co-owners. Married couples usually own their residence in “joint tenancy with right of survivorship” and the surviving partner automatically inherits the home. If the property is held as “tenants in common,” then the portion owned by the decedent becomes part of the estate.
The person writing a will – the testator – establishes who they want to serve as the personal representative, or executor, of their estate. The personal representative is required to administer the decedent’s estate, which involves resolving any debts and handling the distribution of property. Most importantly, the personal representative is a fiduciary and therefore has duties of loyalty, candor, honesty and good faith to the deceased, i.e. the personal representative must act within the deceased best interests, not his or hers or any others due to inherit. While the personal representative is often a relative, the testator might choose a close friend or professional to handle estate administration. When a person dies intestate, the personal representative is appointed according to Maryland law, and that is the spouse or closest adult relative.
Maryland Law of Intestate Succession
To die intestate means to die without a will. Maryland’s laws of intestate succession are based on marital and blood relationships. Under the law, the widow or widower of the decedent receives the entire estate if there are no surviving children or parents. Otherwise, the estate is divided as follows, with specific monetary amounts involved:
- Spouse and decedent’s minor children – spouse receives one-half of the estate, and the children share the remaining half. If there is one minor child, that child receives 50 percent of the estate, two minor children each share 25 percent of the estate, and so on. Md. Est. & Trusts § 3-103
- Spouse and decedent’s adult children – the spouse receives $15,000, along with half of the remaining estate. The adult children split what is left. If a decedent’s adult child predeceased him and had children, those children receive the late parent’s share. Cite.
- Children, no spouse – the children divide the entire estate, again with the portion of any predeceased child going to their offspring. Maryland law does not include stepchildren in this estate division. Md. Est. & Trusts § 3-103
- Spouse and parents, no children – the spouse receives $15,000 and half of the remaining estate. The parents divide the balance, or if there is just one surviving parent he or she receives the balance. Md. Est. & Trusts § 3-102
- Parents – if the decedent has no spouse or children, the parents divide the estate, or a surviving parent inherits the entire estate. Md. Est. & Trusts § 3-104(b)
- If the decedent is unmarried and has no children or parents, any siblings are next in the line of succession. Siblings divide the estate equally, with the share of any deceased sibling going to the late person’s children, i.e. the decedent’s nieces and/or nephews. Md. Est. & Trusts § 1-210(c)
- If the decedent has no siblings, any surviving grandparents divide the estate. If the grandparents are dead, their “issue” – the decedent’s aunts and uncles – inherit the estate. If the grandparents are gone and have no surviving issue but the great-grandparents survive, they divide the estate. If they are dead, any of their surviving issues inherit. Md. Est. & Trusts § 3-104(c)(d)
- Stepchildren may inherit the estate at this point if there are no blood relatives, but if there are even distant blood relatives, they are unlikely to inherit if there is no will. Md. Est. & Trusts § 3-104(e)
- If the decedent had no living heirs and did not owe money for a nursing home or similar long-term care, the assets go to the Board of Education in the county or city where the decedent resided. Md. Est. & Trusts § 3-103.
Many people today are in long-term unmarried relationships. Without a will designating the surviving partner as a beneficiary, that person receives nothing from the estate under the Maryland laws of intestate succession. In such a scenario, it is entirely possible that an estate could go to a distant relative the decedent barely knew, rather than a person who shared his or her life. A variety of other scenarios may arise, such as adopted children, children born after one’s death, stepchildren, foster children, disinheritance, conditions of inheritance, simultaneous death, etc.
Writing a Will
Creating a will is usually a simple and relatively inexpensive procedure. Failure to write a will doesn’t cheat death, but it could cheat loved ones out of the assets you wished them to have. It’s also important to have a will properly executed by an attorney. Certain standards must be met for a will’s validity, so a do-it-yourself could still end up triggering intestacy laws. Contact us today to write your will and give you peace of mind.
Maryland General Estate Information Guide
Maryland Orphan FAQ
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