The death of a loved one is always difficult to bear. Often, the process of settling their estate can be an unwelcome burden to the surviving family members. I offer counsel and assistance in helping you navigate the probate process.
It is the judicially supervised process of administering a loved one’s estate. A personal representative, often also commonly referred to as an executor, is appointed. The deceased’s assets are collected, their taxes and debts paid, and a final distribution is made to the beneficiaries of the estate. Thankfully, Maryland’s probate procedure is fairly straightforward. However, to individuals unfamiliar with the process it can seem quite daunting at times. Family dynamics can often complicate the process. Creditors can hound the personal representative in attempts to have them pay unsubstantiated debts. Having the representation of a Maryland probate attorney can help you understand the many technical aspects of the various documents and reports that need to be filed with the court. Counsel can also serve as a neutral intermediary in cases where strained family relations complicate the administration of an estate. Where appropriate, I believe in seeking settlements outside of a court setting between the parties. This can help reduce litigation costs and give the parties a chance to fashion their own solution to a dispute, rather than having a Court impose one on their own.
Everyone wants to complete the probate process as quickly as possible. However, Maryland has a statutory process which must be followed. The length of the process is largely determined by which type of estate you classify as. There are two main types of estates in Maryland: Regular Estates and Small Estates.
If the property owned by the decedent is valued under $50,000 (or under $100,000 if the spouse is the sole legatee or heir), the estate qualifies as a “Small Estate”. The size of a decedent’s estate is calculated by compiling the value of all the assets owned by the decedent as of the date of their death. Items that were jointly held with another individual or were payable on death by way of beneficiary designations are excluded from this computation. A Small Estate requires a minimal amount of paperwork to be filed with the Register of Wills and can the process can typically be completed within a few months.
A “Regular Estate” is where the value of the decedent’s assets exceed $50,000.00 (or exceeds $100,000.00 if spouse is the sole legatee or heir). In such instances, the Register of Wills requires a much more formal procedure. It also requires more time to complete the probate process. Below is a summary of a few of the key dates and steps which must be taken to finish the probate process for a Regular Estate.
After filing the necessary paperwork to open the estate, the first major deadline is filing the estate’s inventory. This must be done within three months after the appointment of the personal representative. The inventory is an accurate summary of the total value of assets that the decedent owned at the time of their death. It includes bank accounts, stock values, bonds, and any other asset that were titled in the decedent’s name at his death. Often professional appraisals of tangible and real property are required to complete this process.
Another major deadline occurs six months after the individual’s death. This date is important as it represents the deadline that creditors must file a claim against the estate. If a creditor fails to file a timely claim against the estate, they typically lose the legal right to be compensated. Regrettably, many creditors use the death of an individual to try and “guilt” the personal representative into paying unsubstantiated or untimely claims. Understanding what constitutes a valid claim is an important part of a personal representative’s duty.
Another critical deadline in the estate probate process is for filing the estate’s first account. This needs to be done within nine months after the appointment of a personal representative. This is a summary of all the expenses that have been paid since the individual’s passing, detailing any income that has been collected, as well as reflecting the distributions to the estate’s beneficiaries. The account needs to be reviewed and approved by the Orphans’ Court.
The Personal Representative also has the duty to pay all of the decedent’s tax liabilities prior to closing out the estate. This includes the payment of the decedent’s personal income taxes, estate income taxes, as well as any gift or estate tax liabilities. Therefore, an estate will remain open pending the resolution of any of these additional issues as well.
In sum, there is no clear cut time frame of how long a Regular Estate will take to be fully administered. Each estate is unique and may require additional steps to complete its administration. However, it is important for individuals to appreciate that the probate process is just that: a process. The process can often take a year or mote to finish. Documents are required to be filed with the Register of Wills and submitted to the Orphans’ Court for their review and approval.
Having an experienced Maryland probate lawyer can make the process easier to navigate and can help answer many of the questions that often arise among family members during the estate’s administration.
Timothy A. Costello, Esq.
Principal(917) 270-0183 VIEW BIO