When someone passes away, the process of administering their estate is called probate. This is a court-supervised process that involves organizing the deceased’s money, assets, and possessions, and distributing them properly as inheritance (after paying taxes and debts). If the person left a will, it will name an executor of the estate who will help with the probate process.
Each probate process is different depending on the individual, their assets, and family dynamics. And it can be confusing, especially during this difficult time grieving the loss of a loved one. To help, we’ve created this guide to probate court in Maryland.
Is Probate Required in Maryland?
In most cases, probate is necessary. In fact, state law requires most estates to go through the probate process to ensure stipulations of a last will and testament are honored. Or, if there is no will, state laws set guidelines for how to handle the estate.
How to Begin the Probate Process
Once an individual passes away, the estate administration process begins, but the type of probate proceedings depends on the individual case.
- Opening the estate: In most cases, if someone passes away with assets in their sole name, probate is required. The will must also be filed with the Register of Wills office. If someone fails to file the will, they can be sued.
If there is an executor named, they must petition the Orphan’s Court to be formally recognized as the personal representative of the estate. Once approved, they will receive a Letter of Administration. Then, the administration of the estate process begins.
- Administration: The personal representative values assets, pays outstanding debts and expenses, files any taxes (including tax returns, inheritance tax, estate tax, state or federal taxes). Creditors are also notified at this time, valid claims are paid, and other fees are taken care of.
- Distribution: This is when the personal representative distributes assets according to the terms of the will or Maryland probate law. If no will is in place, the court helps determine who the heirs are.
Depending on the type of probate process, the personal representative may also have to file inventory, accounting or a final report.
How Long Does Probate Take in Maryland?
There’s no time limit for filing a will after someone dies, but it should be filed promptly. The length of time it takes for the full probate process can depend on the individual estate, but typically takes around one year. This includes:
- Marshaling the assets
- Valuing the assets
- Distributing assets among beneficiaries
In Maryland, there is not a requirement for an official reading, but if there are challenges with the family, valuing or marshaling the assets, or other administrative issues, the process can take even longer.
- Creditors have six months from the date of death to file a claim.
- Once assets have been distributed, probate must remain open for at least six months to allow for creditors to come forward.
What is the Cost of Probate in Maryland?
Under Maryland law, probate fees are charged for the administrative processing of the estate. These fees are based on the total gross estate, but there may also be charges for services such as:
- Extra letters of administration
- Plain, certified, or exemplified copies
- Entering claims
- Entering caveat papers
- Certified mail fees for notices
- Attorney fees, which are also based on the total gross estate
Can Probate be Avoided?
The executor of the estate, or person holding someone’s will, is required to file the will with the Register of Wills office in the appropriate county. If there are assets in the deceased’s name without a joint owner or designated beneficiary, the only way to legally transfer the ownership is through the probate process.
If the process isn’t started in a timely manner, the personal representative could miss tax filing deadlines or assets may be turned over to the unclaimed property division of the state. It can also make transferring assets to beneficiaries much more difficult in the future.
The best way to avoid probate is to plan ahead – make sure your loved ones’ estates are put in a living trust, which will go to appropriate beneficiaries once the loved one passes away. This is because assets that have a named beneficiary don’t need to go through probate. Outline clearly in the will and testament where all of the assets should go, and transfer appropriate assets prior to end of life.
Where Can I Go to Get Wills/Probate Information?
If you need information about wills, probate, or registering a will in Maryland, it’s handled by the Register of Wills office in each jurisdiction. The Register serves as the Clerk to the Orphans’ Court, which is Maryland’s probate court and resides over the administration of estates. You can visit the Maryland Register of Wills for more information, as well as forms and local office contact information.
You can also access estate records online through the Estate Search.
Do I Need a Probate Attorney in Maryland?
A probate attorney is not required in Maryland, but it is highly recommended since the probate process can be complex. A probate attorney can help you navigate through the entire estate and probate process, including:
- Meeting all obligations
- Assisting with preparing initial pleadings required
- Assisting with marshaling and valuing assets
- Preparing required inventory or accounting
- Helping plan for the distribution of assets
The Maryland probate and estate process can be confusing, especially as you deal with the grief of losing a loved one. Blackford & Flohr, LLC is here to help you through this difficult time, ensuring you and your family are protected and advised. Call us today to speak with a Maryland wills and estates lawyer at 410-647-6677, or fill out our contact form online for more information.