What Is Probate and How Does It Work in MD?
When you pass away in Maryland, your estate must go through a process called probate. Many people assume that creating a will allows loved ones to forgo the probate process, but that’s not the case. Nearly all assets are subject to probate with a few exceptions, as explained below.
Probate is a court-supervised legal process that identifies the beneficiaries, assets, and debts of someone who passed away (the decedent). Even if the decedent had a will, the probate process could take about a year. Without one, it can last even longer.
If you die without a will in Maryland, the law says you’ve died “intestate.” In this case, the court determines who inherits your assets and how much they inherit.
The Probate Process in Maryland
A personal representative needs to start a probate case in the county where you lived. They’ll need to bring your will and death certificate to the court.
A court clerk will ask for a rough estimate of your estate’s value. The probate filer has to pay a fee depending on how much your estate is worth. Fees can reach thousands of dollars and can reach thousands of dollars for high-value estates.
The Role of the Personal Representative
Your personal representative has a very important job. After starting the probate process, they’ll also need to:
- Transfer your bank accounts to the estate
- File an estate inventory
- Protect your assets against damage and theft
- Pay debts, taxes, and estate expenses
- Tell creditors you’ve passed on
- Handle the distribution of assets per your wishes
Probate involves plenty of deadlines and mountains of paperwork, so choose a representative who’s up to the challenge. Ensure this person knows how to value your assets and pay debts so they don’t run afoul of the law.
It’s smart to choose someone responsible with money, too. If your representative mixes your assets with theirs, they’ll create a complicated mess that can take months to sort out in court.
Avoiding Probate in Maryland
In Maryland, nearly all assets must go through the probate court. Jointly owned real estate is one exception. This property passes automatically to the other owner upon death, so it doesn’t qualify for the probate process.
Naming beneficiaries for your financial accounts lets your loved ones skip probate, too. Account ownership and funds go straight to the people you’ve named. Make sure to update your accounts and policies so they match your current wishes.
Small estates may qualify for Maryland’s simplified probate process. Your estate qualifies if it’s worth $100,000 or less and your spouse is the only heir. If you have other heirs, Maryland caps your estate value at $50,000.
Contact a Maryland Estate Planning Lawyer for Estate Planning Guidance
Probate can be grueling, especially for families dealing with complicated estates. Don’t put off estate planning until it’s too late. Call The Law Office of Ralph W. Powers, Jr., P.C., at (301) 627-1000 to learn more about probate today.