A Guide to the Maryland Probate Process: Phases & Challenges
Have you recently lost a loved one and been named as their personal representative, either in their Will or by the court? If so, you will now be tasked with administering their estate at an emotional and stressful time in your life. You will encounter phrases like “Maryland probate process,” “non-probate assets” and “Register of Wills,” and may not know what they mean. The more you learn about the Maryland probate process, the more overwhelmed you may feel. Do not worry! Our guide can help.
At PathFinder Law Group, we recognize that navigating the complex Maryland probate process can be challenging, especially when faced with all of the complex legal jargon. Our aim is to help you understand the Maryland probate process and assist you in administering your loved one’s estate so you can focus on your family and healing.
In this guide, we will:
- Define probate and its purpose,
- Discuss the three phases of the Maryland probate process, and
- Highlight common challenges and how to address them.
Table of Contents
What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process that occurs after someone passes away. When someone dies, their estate goes through the Maryland probate process. During this time, the probate court identifies the deceased person’s assets, debts, and beneficiaries. The court then appoints a personal representative to administer the estate.
The Maryland probate process has three distinct phases:
- Opening the estate
- Administrative phase
- Distribution of the estate
Phase 1: Opening the Estate
The first stage in the Maryland probate process is opening the estate, which is the most labor-intensive phase. To open the estate, you will have to go to the Maryland Register of Wills office and bring a series of documents with you. These documents include:
- The original Last Will and Testament (if one is available) with the original signature of the person that passed away (called the “decedent”).
- Multiple copies of the decedent’s death certificate.
- Copies of any car titles related to the decedent.
- Funeral bills, expenses, and a copy of the funeral contract.
- The names and addresses of all interested persons.
- A rough estimate of the decedent’s assets to determine if it is a small or regular estate.
Make multiple copies of these documents, as they will be required throughout the probate process-especially the death certificate and Letters of Administration.
It’s essential to file as soon as possible, as the estate must be open for at least six months before assets can be distributed to allow for the filing of valid estate claims.
Additionally, the sooner you file, the sooner you will get the Letters of Administration, allowing you to proceed to the bank and turn the decedent’s accounts into “estate accounts.” Estate accounts allow you to continue making mortgage and insurance payments on behalf of the decedent.
Becoming personal representative
Hopefully, there is a Will that names you as the personal representative to oversee the administration of your loved one’s estate. If the Will does not name you as the personal representative, that’s a separate challenge.
The probate court will then provide the Letters of Administration to the personal representative and the Maryland probate process will move into the administrative phase.
If there is no Will, it is important to contact an experienced Maryland probate attorney to review your options.
What if there is no Will?
Typically, if no personal representative has been named in the Will or there is no Will at all, the decedent’s spouse or children will be appointed personal representative.
In Maryland, if someone dies without a Will, their estate will be distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws. These laws determine who will inherit the decedent’s assets based on their family relationships.
The Maryland probate process can become far more complicated without a Will, as there may be disputes over who is entitled to inherit and how assets should be distributed. An experienced Maryland probate attorney can help you navigate this process.
Phase 2: Administrative Phase
The administrative phase primarily consists of identifying and evaluating assets, following the fee chart (which determines the probate fee), and addressing inheritance and estate taxes.
Identifying and evaluating assets
First, you will use the Letters of Administration to transition bank accounts into estate accounts. Then, you will use these estate accounts to:
- Make mortgage and insurance payments,
- Notify creditors so they can collect on any debts,
- Pay funeral expenses and valid claims, and
- Pay fees and taxes related to the estate.
Following the fee chart
The Maryland probate process is not free. There are various probate fees along the way. These probate fees all depend on the value of the gross estate. Following the fee chart will determine how to effectively pay the probate fees so you can plan accordingly.
Inheritance taxes and estate taxes
In Maryland, there are two types of taxes that may be imposed on an estate: inheritance taxes and estate taxes. Inheritance taxes are paid either by the individual inheriting the assets or from the estate, while estate taxes are paid by the estate itself.
Inheritance taxes are based on the relationship of the beneficiary to the decedent and can range from 0% to 11.11%. The decedent’s children, spouse, parents, or siblings do not have to pay inheritance taxes.
Estate taxes, on the other hand, are based on the overall value of the estate and can range from 0.8% to 16%.
It is important to understand how these taxes can impact inheritance and work with a qualified probate attorney who can guide you through the process and help minimize your tax liability.
Phase 3: Distribution of the Estate
By this phase, the estate has been opened, assets have been identified and collected, and all expenses, taxes, and valid claims have been taken care of. Now, all that is left is to distribute the remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries (also called “heirs” or “legatees”). If the deceased person has a valid Will, the estate will be distributed accordingly.
How a lawyer can help
A qualified probate attorney can provide valuable assistance throughout all three phases of the probate process. In the first phase, a probate attorney can help file the necessary documents with the Register of Wills and ensure that the right person is appointed as the personal representative.
During the administrative phase, a probate attorney can assist with managing the estate’s assets, paying any debts, and minimizing taxes.
In the distribution phase, a probate lawyer can help with correctly distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. They can also provide guidance on how to best navigate any disputes that may arise among beneficiaries.
The expertise of an experienced probate attorney is invaluable in helping to ensure a smooth and successful probate process.
Maryland Probate Process Challenges
Many problems may arise throughout the process. Here are six of the most common challenges that can occur:
- Time and Complexity: The Maryland probate process can be lengthy and complex, requiring a significant amount of time and effort to complete.
- Family Issues: Family members may disagree about asset distribution or estate handling, leading to conflicts and disputes.
- Valuation of Assets: Determining the value of assets in the estate can be a difficult task, particularly for unique or unusual assets.
- Estate Planning Issues: If there is no Will or if the Will does not hold up in court, it can seriously complicate the process.
- Court Proceedings: Probate proceedings may involve court appearances, which can be intimidating and confusing for those who are not familiar with the legal system.
- Creditor Claims: Creditors may file claims against the estate, further delaying the probate process and reducing the final amount of assets available for distribution.
Benefits of Hiring an Experienced Maryland Probate Attorney
A qualified Maryland probate attorney can help make the process as smooth and easy as possible. They will:
- Help you become the personal representative if you have not been named in the decedent’s Will.
- Take care of various tasks, such as opening the estate, filing paperwork, obtaining asset valuation, collecting financial records, and much more.
- Help settle any family disputes and conflicts that may arise during the Maryland probate process.
- Aid you in valuing unique or unusual assets.
- Work with you to determine how to administer your loved one’s estate if they did not have a Will.
- Represent you if you are required to appear in court.
- Assist you with creditors who file claims against the estate.
Why Choose PathFinder Law Group
For over a decade, PathFinder Law Group has been helping scores of Maryland residents to successfully navigate the probate process. We handle all aspects of the Maryland probate process, from opening the estate to valuing assets to settling family disputes. This means that the personal representative only needs to complete nominal tasks.
Unlike larger, more generalized law practices, PathFinder Law Group specializes in Estates, Trusts, and Probate Law.
At PathFinder Law Group, we:
- Know all of the complex ins and outs of the probate process.
- Offer expertise and personalized service, catering to your unique situation.
- Are dedicated to providing client-focused support and guidance, working tirelessly to guide you through the complex Maryland probate process.
- Ensure that your needs are met with precision and care.
- Lastly, our specialized focus on probate law enables us to offer a level of expertise and service that exceeds that of larger, general practice law firms.
You can trust that PathFinder Law Group will give you the attention and care you need to easily get through the Maryland probate process, so you can have peace of mind and focus on the things in life that matter to you most.
The Maryland probate process can be complicated and feel overwhelming. There are three phases: opening the estate, the administrative phase, and distributing the estate. An experienced probate lawyer can provide you with peace of mind, so you can focus on the things in life that really matter. They can also solve the challenges that may arise, such as appraising assets, estate planning issues, and creditor claims.
If you were named personal representative and unsure where to start OR if you have questions about the Maryland probate process contact PathFinder Law Group Today or call us at (443) 579-4529 for a free consultation.
Maryland Probate Process FAQ
Do all Wills go through probate?
- Yes. However, not all assets go through probate.
- Non-probate assets are assets that have some type of post-death designation in place OR are jointly owned.
What is a small vs regular estate?
- In accordance with Maryland law, an estate can be classified as a small estate if its total value is below $50,000.
- If an estate is appraised at $100,000 or lower, and the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary, it is also considered a small estate.
How long does the Maryland probate process take?
- It can take over a year. First, creditors are granted a six-month window to file a claim. After assets are distributed, the estate remains open for at least six months in case there are any additional creditor claims.
- If someone disputes the Will, the process can take much longer.
What is a list of interested persons?
- A list of the names and addresses of the deceased person’s heirs.
What is a valid claim?
- A legitimate demand or request for payment or other compensation that is legally owed to a person or entity.
Where to go to file a Will (Register of Wills)
- An Office of the Register of Wills. You can find a list of locations by going to: http://registers.maryland.gov/main.
Still have questions? Contact PathFinder Law Group Today or call us at (443) 579-4529 for a free consultation.