Germantown, Silver Spring and throughout Montgomery County, Maryland Probate Lawyers Assisting Clients Going Through the Probate Process
Dealing with the process of dividing a loved one’s estate among heirs while you are still grieving your loss can be difficult and emotionally draining, especially when you are not sure of what the next step should be. Our firm has helped many families in Germantown, Silver Spring and throughout Montgomery County, Maryland and surrounding areas to navigate the probate process in Maryland – here are a few important insights on how probate works in our state and what to expect if you need to take a loved one’s estate through probate.
What Is Probate in Maryland?
Probate is a court-supervised process in which any assets in an estate that was solely in the deceased person’s name get divided among the decedent’s heirs. The court may assign an executor (also called a personal representative) for the estate or appoint the executor named in the decedent’s will, and that person will be responsible for managing the estate assets, handling all tasks required to probate the estate, and closing out the estate after assets were distributed.
The probate process is necessary to ensure a decedent’s estate is divided fairly and honestly and that all debts and taxes are paid before the assets can be divided. In Maryland, the total value of assets in an estate usually determines what kind of probate you will need to select. Estates valued under a certain threshold are considered small estates, whereas other estates with assets that exceed these values are considered regular estates. This is important to know because Maryland has a simplified probate process for small estates, which is usually shorter and requires fewer formalities than regular probate.
What Are the Steps to Probating a Loved One’s Estate?
The probate process begins right after the person who owns the estate passes away. If that person left a will, the document needs to be registered with the Maryland Register of Wills shortly after the death. Next, the individual who is appointed as the estate’s personal representative may initiate a petition to the court to probate the estate and will need to determine whether the estate is small and may go through simplified probate or if it requires regular probate. After receiving a letter of administration from the court, the personal representative now has the authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The personal representative may be required to file a document called a list of interested persons with the Register of Wills. As the name says, this is a list that contains the names and addresses of the decedent’s heirs. This document is usually filed along with the will for small estates and should be filed within a certain deadline for regular estates. The next few steps require making an inventory of the decedent’s assets and sorting out which assets were solely in the decedent’s name, and which assets had a beneficiary designation or were not solely in the decedent’s name. Then, any creditors that may have a claim against the estate may come forward but should observe the 6-month deadline for making a claim against the estate. The last step before all assets can be distributed is filing a final account. Depending on the complexity of the estate, the personal representative may want to recruit the help of professionals such as an accountant, a financial or tax expert, and a probate attorney.
Do All Assets Need to Go Through Probate?
Not all assets in an estate need to be probated before being transferred to the right beneficiary. In many cases, only the assets that were solely in the decedent’s name may require probate. For example, if your loved one had a bank account solely in his or her name, the bank will not transfer ownership of that account until the probate court assigns a personal representative to the estate, and most likely, the money in that account will need to go through probate before being distributed. However, if the bank account was both in the decedent’s name and in the name of a spouse (as in a joint account), the account may automatically go to the surviving spouse, usually without needing to be probated.
Other examples of assets that usually stay out of probate and get transferred to beneficiaries directly may include life insurance, pensions, annuities, accounts or assets with a transfer-on-death designation, and assets placed in a living trust. In fact, many people find it beneficial to place a large percentage of their assets in a living trust with the purpose of avoiding probate. An attorney may be able to advise you on what assets need to be probated in your loved one’s estate, and whether a living trust is the right choice for your estate.
How Can a Probate Attorney Help?
As you can see, the probate process in Maryland is not as simple as filling out a few forms and turning them in. The entire process can take a few months if there are no disputes and everything goes smoothly, but cases that involve heirs fighting over their inheritance and initiating will contests may drag on for over a year. Whether you were given the task of probating your loved one’s estate or you are thinking ahead and want to know how to plan for the future so your assets are kept out of probate, speaking to an attorney should be your first step. Your attorney can guide you through the probate process and help you avoid common yet costly mistakes.
At Paré & Associates, LLC, our attorneys have helped many clients and their families navigate the Maryland probate process. We know it can be overwhelming to try to understand how it all works and what to do next, so you can count on our legal team every step of the way. Call Paré & Associates, LLC today at (301) 962-2492 to schedule a free consultation.