Probate in Maryland
Probate is one of the most dreaded aspects of estate administration, and for good reason. No one wants to go to court and litigate their loved one’s assets and debts just a few weeks after their death. Not only is the probate process complex, time-consuming, and stressful, it is often painful for family members who are still struggling with very raw emotions.
The estate planning team at Chesapeake Wills and Trusts can guide you through the entire Maryland probate process, so you can focus on what is most important: coming to terms with your loss. With advance planning, we can design a plan that allows your loved ones to avoid probate entirely after you pass away.
Let’s begin by looking at what is required to settle an estate through probate in Maryland and how we can help you navigate the process. Then we’ll look at how to avoid probate through advance planning.
The Personal Representative’s Responsibilities During Probate
The personal representative is responsible for settling and distributing the decedent’s estate as efficiently as possible by following the instructions contained in the decedent’s will. (Learn More About Wills, Intestacy, and Probate.)
While every probate is unique, here is a partial list of the duties required to settle an estate in a “typical” probate:
- Locate and file the Last Will and Testament with the local court
- File required probate documents with the court
- Ascertain, and notify, all known creditors of the estate
- Secure the decedent’s personal residence and tangible personal property
- Locate, inventory, custody, close and transfer personal assets/accounts
- Process and receive life insurance death benefits
- Pay debts and expenses associated with the last illness and funeral
- Make payments to creditors, discharge obligations, and obtain creditor releases
- File appropriate tax returns (federal and state) and make appropriate tax elections
- Pay estate taxes and final personal income taxes
- Obtain tax releases and closing letters from local courts and the IRS
- Make specific bequests, as well as partial and final distributions, to beneficiaries and obtain releases
- Provide complete, detailed accounting to the local court and estate beneficiaries
- File closing paperwork/documentation with the court
Accomplishing all of this would be difficult in and of itself. When you factor in the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one, the situation can become overwhelming.
If you have been named as personal representative, we can lift this burden off your shoulders and handle the most difficult aspects of the process: communicating with the court; managing the accountings; resolving conflicts with creditors; and coordinating with other professionals such as accountants and financial advisors.
It is important to note that the personal representative can be held financially and legally responsible for failing to properly settle the estate, even if any mistakes were unintentional. (Learn the Biggest Mistakes People Make in Probate.) Working with a qualified probate attorney can protect you against this possibility.
You are not alone during this difficult time. We are here to help you every step of the way.
Probate Is Often Required Under Maryland Law
Probate is difficult to avoid in Maryland unless you have the proper estate plan in place. Any time there are assets held only by the deceased, probate is likely necessary. There are only two scenarios that allow families to avoid court litigation and the probate process. These include:
- All assets in the estate are jointly held, and one of the owners is still alive
- The decedent placed all of his or her assets in a trust that an estate planning attorney structured for this purpose
Even with the first option, the family will eventually have to deal with the probate process when the remaining loved one dies. This means the only true way to avoid litigating your estate is to create a trust with the help of an estate planning attorney.
The Benefits of Avoiding the Maryland Probate Process
Besides saving your family the stress and struggle of dealing with probating your estate in a Maryland court, there are numerous other advantages of avoiding the probate process. These include:
Probate Is Time-consuming
Depending on your circumstances, it might take months or even a year or more for an estate to go through Maryland probate. During this time, the assets held in the estate are unavailable. This can be an issue if your heirs need access to your accounts to pay bills or make ends meet.
Probate Can Cost a Lot of Money
There are costs associated with going through the probate process. The costs of probate depend on the value of the estate. Going through the probate process means less of your hard-earned life savings will go to your loved ones.
Probate Is a Public Process
Most people like to keep their money matters private and do not want everyone else to know how much money they have in the bank or the size of their debts.
During the probate process, your Personal Representative must file a list of your assets and debts with the Register of Wills in the county where your estate is to be administered. Once filed, the list of assets and debts is a public record which means that anyone could search for your records and uncover information about your debts and assets, and who inherited your life savings. This not only makes your personal information public knowledge, but it also could put your heirs at risk if a scammer or thief learns their identity.
Probate Leads to Delays in Distributing Assets
Any financial power of attorney you signed during your life will expire upon your death. Because the power of attorney is no longer in effect after you pass away, there will be a delay in the ability for your family to regain access to your assets until your estate is opened during the probate process. There could be a significant delay between the time of your death and the time the Personal Representative of your estate is appointed. In addition, the probate process could tie up the assets in your estate until such time that all of your creditors have the opportunity to make a claim against your estate.
Let Us Help Your Family Avoid the Maryland Probate Process
We can help you put a proper estate plan in place that will not only protect your assets but prevent your family from having to deal with court litigation and the probate process after your death. We can explain how this type of plan works in language you can understand, guiding you through each decision and leaving you feeling confident about your family’s financial future.
With a trust in place, you can ensure your heirs have access to your assets almost instantly after your death. They can continue to pay bills and have access to the funds they need without waiting months while your heirs wait on the court to permit asset distribution.
A trust also gives you peace of mind knowing your information remains private and no one will have access to information about your family members’ inheritance. Because we created the trust according to your wishes before your death, you can also dictate who receives your assets and even how your heirs spend them if necessary.
Contact Our Maryland Probate and Estate Planning Attorneys Today
At Chesapeake Wills and Trusts, our team can help you understand how trusts and other estate planning tools can help you make things easier on your family after you pass away. We understand no two families are the same, so we will get to know your unique needs before developing a strategy that will work best to achieve your goals and give you the peace of mind you crave.