Probate & Estate Administration
Probate and Estate Administration in Maryland and Washington DC
In general, death and what will happen to our loved ones after we die are topics that most of us would rather not think or talk about in great detail. Perhaps the reluctance to discuss these matters is sparked by fear of the unknown, or perhaps there are other reasons unique to each of us.
From a legal standpoint, however, failure to address these issues can have unintended consequences. Among other things, it may mean that surviving family members won’t be prepared for the probate or estate administration processes. Accordingly, we are providing the following information to help grieving families understand how probate and estate administration work in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
What is probate?
Put in its simplest terms, probate is a legal process conducted through the courts that usually – but not always – takes place after someone dies. The steps typically include:
- Providing evidence of a valid will to the court
- The identification, classification and appraisal of any and all property belonging to the person who died
- Payment of any outstanding debts and taxes
- The distribution of any remaining assets in accordance with the deceased’s will (or applicable state law, absent a will)
How do probate and estate administration work in Maryland?
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that your loved one had a will when he or she passed away. Once it is located it must be filed with the Register of Wills in the county where your loved one resided on a full time basis. This is important because a will is not legally acknowledged until it has been subject to probate.
If no one challenges the will, it will be subject to administrative probate by the County Register of Wills. Conversely, if the will is contested, it will be subject to judicial probate conducted by the county Orphan’s Courts.
A personal representative can only be appointed after a petition for probate is filed with the appropriate court or Register of Wills office. Once the representative is appointed, he or she gets a letter of administration. This letter authorizes him or her to allocate the assets in the estate.
In the context of Maryland probate, estates are classified as small or regular, depending on total worth. Small estates are those worth $50,000 or less, unless the spouse is the sole beneficiary. In that case, this classification extends to estates with a maximum value of $100,000. Regular estates are those worth more than $50,000.
Allocation usually occurs following the payment of relevant expenses, inheritance taxes, and other debts of the decedent according to the will. If your loved one didn’t leave a will when he or she passed away, his or her property will be distributed to you and any other relatives in a manner specified by Maryland law.
In addition to carrying out the tasks specified above, the personal representative is charged with reporting his or her actions to the court and closing the estate.
How does probate and estate administration work in Washington, D.C.?
Again, to simplify the ensuing explanation, let’s assume your loved one was residing in Washington D.C. on a permanent basis at the time of his or her death. We’ll also assume that he or she also held certain assets here and had a will.
In this case, probate usually begins by initiating a so-called “decedent’s” estate or “large estate.” As part of this process, the nominated personal representative or executor should submit the will to the Probate Division at the Probate Clerk’s Office. A Certificate of Filing Will should be filed there at the same time. In addition, a personal representative) should file:
- A petition for probate of the will
- A petition for appointment as the personal representative
Navigating through the probate process can be overwhelming for many. There are a series of filings that are required as part of the administration of the estate and there are strict deadlines to get things done. Contact Colbert Law Firm. We can guide you through the process and help you with every stage of administering an estate. This includes helping clients with inventory of assets, accounting, creditor notices and payment of debts and distribution of assets.
We provide aggressive litigation in probate cases. Unfortunately, there are cases where a removal of a personal presentative is required. We assist interested parties with the removal of a personal representative for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and misuse of estate assets etc. We litigate cases involving fraudulent power of attorneys, for example, when someone through coercion or fraud forces the signature of a person who lacks capacity to sign the instrument. We also assist with will contest, known as will caveat and actions against personal representatives who abuse or misuse their authority and compromise fiduciary duties owed to heirs and beneficiaries.
The bottom line
Coping with the death of a loved one is never easy. The last thing you need is to worry about is how to administer his or her estate, or navigating probate alone. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you, today.