Inheritance Laws in Maryland: What You Need to Know

If you feel overwhelmed by the complexities of inheritance laws in Maryland, you’re not alone. Inheritance laws can appear confusing and complex. But regardless of whether you’re creating a Will for yourself or you stand to inherit from a loved one, it’s critical to understand inheritance laws.

Inheritance isn’t just about who gets which assets. It’s a crossroads between emotion, legacy, and law. Understanding inheritance laws means peace of mind and the confidence that assets will be fairly distributed.

In order to equip you with the knowledge you need to make decisions that could deeply impact your family’s future, we will:

  • Explore the basics of inheritance laws in Maryland,
  • Discuss who can claim an inheritance, and
  • Highlight the importance of clear estate planning.

The Basics of Inheritance Laws in Maryland

The topic of inheritance laws and rights can seem intricate, but understanding the basics is key.

What is an Inheritance?

An inheritance is what a beneficiary receives after a loved one dies. It’s their way of passing down assets, heirlooms, and sometimes, responsibilities.

What Assets Can Be Inherited?

Almost everything can be inherited. Some tangible assets include:

  • Real estate,
  • Cars,
  • Jewelry, and
  • Personal belongings.

Some intangible assets include:

  • Bank accounts,
  • Stocks,
  • Bonds,
  • Intellectual assets, and
  • Digital assets-such as cryptocurrency or other online accounts.

Basics of Intestacy Laws in Maryland:

If someone dies without a valid Will in Maryland, intestacy laws dictate how that person’s assets will be divided. Intestacy laws provide a predefined order, ensuring assets find a rightful home.

A spouse and children are typically the first in line. But if they’re not present, the assets may go to parents, siblings, or even distant relatives.

However, these divisions may not always reflect your wishes. That is why it is vital to draft a valid, up-to-date Will with the help of an estate planning attorney.

Who Can Claim Inheritance?

At PathFinder Law Group, we often answer questions about who can inherit assets from a loved one. Here’s a an overview of some common questions we answer:

Can an Illegitimate Child Claim Inheritance?

An “illegitimate child” isn’t a term you hear much these days, but in the legal world, this refers to a child born outside of marriage or to parents who were not legally married when the child was born.

Specific Inheritance Laws in Maryland

  • Establishing Paternity: For an illegitimate child to inherit from their father’s estate, paternity must be established, either through a court order or by acknowledgment from the father.
  • Rights, Post-Paternity: Once paternity is confirmed, an illegitimate child can inherit from their father just as any legitimate child would.
  • Mom’s Assets: Inheriting from Mom is much clearer. Maternity is usually clear-cut from birth, so there are fewer hoops to jump through.
  • The No-Will Scenario: If a parent dies without a Will in Maryland (AKA ‘dying intestate’), the illegitimate child has the same inheritance rights as legitimate siblings. However, for the father’s assets, paternity must be crystal clear.

An experienced Estates and Trusts attorney can guide you through the process-especially in understanding and establishing paternity.

Do Stepchildren Have Inheritance Rights?

Typically, stepchildren are not on the list of inheritors. Unless a Will mentions them explicitly, stepchildren do not usually inherit.

It is a misconception that stepchildren share the same inheritance rights as biological or adopted children

When someone dies without a Will, intestacy laws favor biological and adopted children. Even when stepchildren have been a part of the family for decades, they may not inherit from an estate unless expressly named in the Will.

Inheritance Rights of Nieces and Nephews

Immediate family and direct descendants-like children or grandchildren-typically have priority. Nieces and nephews are considered collateral relations, placing them further down the list of potential heirs.

Regardless of whether the person passed away with a Will or not, Maryland has a clear hierarchy of who receives an inheritance from an estate:

  1. Spouse and children
  2. Grandchildren
  3. Great grandchildren
  4. Parents
  5. Grandparents
  6. Siblings

Nieces and nephews come even later in the hierarchy. They typically inherit only if those higher in the hierarchy aren’t alive or aren’t present. This highlights the importance of clear estate planning. Without a proper, up-to-date Will, you won’t have control over the distribution of your assets.

Are Adopted Children Considered in Inheritance Laws in Maryland?

Once a child is adopted, the law wraps them in the same protective cloak as biological children. This means that adopted children have the same inheritance rights as biological children. In fact, in Maryland, adopted children are protected from being disinherited, similar to biological children.

But what about their ties to their birth parents? Upon adoption, those previous legal connections get severed. This severance means that unless a birth parent’s Will explicitly mentions them, adopted children do not inherit anything from their biological family.

The Importance of Clear Estate Planning

Imagine spending a lifetime building assets and nurturing relationships only to leave behind a web of confusion. That’s where the importance of clear estate planning comes into play. Here’s why clear estate planning is so crucial:

Prevent Misunderstandings

A clear estate plan is a guiding light for your beneficiaries. When you determine who gets which assets, you are not just distributing property-you are preventing family misunderstandings. You affirm that your family’s peace remains undisturbed and you minimize potential conflict between your loved ones.

Avoid Potential Probate Delays

A clear estate plan may also minimize probate delays. Not only does this mean your possessions may find their way to your loved ones faster, but you can also reduce some of the legal fees that eat away at an estate.

Ensuring Your Intentions Are Met

Perhaps the most important benefit of clear estate planning is that it can safeguard your wishes. In the absence of a clear estate plan, your assets could be distributed based on a one-size-fits-all legal template. This distribution might stray far from what you truly wanted. Being precise and explicit in your planning means that your wishes turn into reality.

Regardless of whether you wish for certain individuals to receive an inheritance or not, it’s crucial to specify your wishes in a clear, detailed Will.

Clarity isn’t just about paperwork. It’s about protecting your property, keeping the peace, and honoring your true intentions.

Inheritance Laws for Minors

As a legal guardian or parent, it’s key to understand the unique provisions in place for children below the age of majority (typically 18). Maryland law protects their financial interests-especially since they are unable to make legally binding decisions. Let’s explore some central areas surrounding this topic:

Age Restrictions on Claiming Inheritance

Minors are restricted from directly inheriting and managing property or financial assets. According to the law, minors are considered incapable of making sound financial decisions.

If your Will directly provides assets to a minor without stipulating any further provisions, complications can arise. The courts may step in to ensure the minor’s interests are protected until they reach the age of majority. At the age of 18, they would then gain full control over their inheritance.

Guardianships for Minors

If a minor stands to inherit assets without a trust in place, a court might appoint a guardian (called a ‘guardian of property‘) to manage those assets on the minor’s behalf. The guardian acts as a fiduciary, meaning they must manage the assets in the minor’s best interests.

Trusts for Minors

A more flexible option is to establish a trust for the minor. A trust allows you to designate a trustee who will manage and distribute assets according to the guidelines you’ve established.

Creating a trust has the advantage of avoiding court-supervised guardianship. Trusts can also extend beyond the age of majority, which allows for regular distributions or continued financial oversight as the beneficiary grows and matures.

While minors face restrictions in directly inheriting assets, there are mechanisms like guardianships and trusts that can ensure their financial well-being and protection. As you consider the future of your children or minor beneficiaries, it’s smart to consult an estate planning attorney to help craft a plan that best meets your family’s needs.

Statute of Limitations on Inheritance

The statute of limitations on inheritance sets the deadline for filing legal claims. Beneficiaries need to act quickly in order to claim their rightful share or dispute the validity of a Will.

Time Limits in Maryland

In Maryland, you have 6 months from when a Will is admitted to probate to contest it. This period starts when the Will enters the probate process-not from the date of death or discovery of the Will.

Reasons for contesting a Will:

  • Suspected fraud,
  • Undue influence,
  • Lack of mental capacity to create a Will, and
  • Improper execution.

Consequences of Missing the Deadline

Not following the statute of limitations on inheritance matters has serious consequences:

  • Missing the deadline could mean forfeiting your right to claim.
  • Late claims or contests might face legal hurdles or dismissals.
  • Delays can result in financial losses if assets decrease in value or go to other beneficiaries.

While managing inheritance can be challenging, especially after losing a family member, swift action is important. Abiding by Maryland’s legal time limits protects your inheritance rights. It’s always recommended to consult an estate attorney to discuss these specifics.

How is Inheritance Tax Determined?

Inheritance tax is charged on assets received from a deceased person. Unlike the estate tax applied to the total estate before distribution, inheritance tax focuses on the recipients.

Factors Influencing Tax Rates

Here are a couple of factors that can influence inheritance tax rates:

  • Estate Value: Larger inheritances typically have higher estate taxes.
  • Beneficiary’s Relationship: Close family members of the deceased, such as spouses, children, and parents are not responsible for paying taxes. More distant family members or people unrelated to the deceased will likely have to pay taxes on their inheritance.

Exemptions and Deductions Available

In many jurisdictions, there are provisions in place to reduce the inheritance tax burden:

  • Spousal Exemption: Assets transferred to a surviving spouse usually bypass this tax.
  • Charitable Allocations: Inherited assets designated for charities may be tax-exempt or qualify for notable deductions.
  • Inheritance Thresholds: Certain jurisdictions won’t levy this tax if the inherited value falls below a set threshold.

Various additional factors affect inheritance tax. Understanding these elements, combined with proper planning and legal expert consultation, can guide you through the specifics of inheritance taxes.

If you’re dealing with a complex estate or facing disagreements about inheritance, it’s time to consult a lawyer. Here’s how an attorney who specializes in inheritance can help:

  • Navigate Complex Estates: Help when the estate has numerous assets, multiple beneficiaries, or vague provisions.
  • Resolve Disputes: Act as a mediator, helping loved ones resolve issues without resorting to court.
  • Provide Legal Representation: If you do have to go to court, an inheritance dispute lawyer will stand by your side, defending your interests and rights.
  • Clarify Legal Provisions: Help you understand the legal jargon and Maryland laws.

How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

An estate planning attorney can help you by:

  • Drafting clear Wills and Trusts,
  • Protecting your assets,
  • Establishing trusts for minors,
  • Providing advice on how to minimize inheritance tax, and
  • Helping you navigate the probate process.

In the intricate world of inheritance laws and disputes, hiring an experienced attorney is invaluable. A knowledgeable Estates and Trusts attorney can protect your rights and simplify the legal processes for you.

Whether you’re drafting a Will, settling disagreements, or navigating the probate process, professional guidance is essential.

Contact PathFinder Law Group

At PathFinder Law Group, we’re committed to prioritizing your interests at all times. Don’t navigate these complex waters alone. Let our experts pave the way for you.

If you need legal assistance or have more questions about inheritance laws and rights, contact PathFinder Law Group today or call us at (443) 579-4529 for a free consultation.

About Adam Zimmerman

Adam Zimmerman is known for his unique ability to put people at ease. Within minutes of meeting Adam, his clients realize he is not the stereotypical attorney and is genuinely invested in helping them through their life situations. He is committed to empowering his clients to be decision makers in the process, so they are knowledgeable about the course of action they decide over their affairs.