What Happens in Maryland When a Person Dies

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The People’s Law Library of Maryland describes what happens in Maryland when a person dies. “When a person dies, that person (the “decedent”) may or may not have left a will. If the decedent did not have a will, Maryland law determines how the decedent’s property will pass to the family of the decedent. If the decedent had a will, whoever has or finds the will of the decedent is required to send the will to the Register of Wills in the county where the decedent lived at the time of death. A will has no power until it has been admitted to probate.

“In Maryland there are two kinds of probate – administrative and judicial. Administrative probate is for uncontested wills and is handled by the county register of wills. Judicial probate is usually for contested wills and is handled by the county Orphan’s Courts

“A petition for probate must be filed with either the Register of Wills or with the correct Orphan’s Court. A personal representative for the estate will be appointed. The priority for appointing a personal representative is generally 1) anyone named to be the personal representative in the will; 2) surviving spouses and children; 3) other people named in the will; and 4) other relatives of the person who died. When the register of wills or orphan’s court appoints a personal representative, it grants the representative letters of administration. Letters of administration empower the representative to distribute the assets in the estate.

“Assets of the estate are generally distributed after payment of inheritance taxes and other debts of the decedent according to the will. If the decedent didn’t have a will, the decedent’s property will go to the decedent’s relatives (if any) according to Maryland Law.

“Estates are either small or regular estates. Small estates are estates that are worth $50,000 or less.  Regular estates are estates valued at more than $50,000. If the only heir is a spouse, small estate status extends up to a value of $100,000.

“The personal representative pays the debts of the estate, distributes assets of the estate, reports to the court what he or she did, and closes the estate. The court rules for estates administration are found in Title 6 of the Maryland court rules.”

If you are the personal representative of the decedent there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. Take a breath. If there is a house or houses involved, nothing has to be done immediately. You and siblings can sort out what should be done. Your options include living in it, fixing it up to rent, or selling it after fixing it up or selling it as-is.
  2. Seek the advice of professionals. A real estate agent or real estate investor can walk through the house, see if work needs to be done to sell it and will give you a feel for the neighborhood and the house’s worth. The other professional could be an attorney good in probate and real estate. You need to find out what is owed on the house, what is the cost basis, any liens outstanding. These professionals will answer any questions you have and will help you make selling decisions.
  3. Understand in this process, nothing can tear a family apart more than money. Be wary of arguments about renting vs selling; what price to sell the house; who gets what possessions; what is the proper sharing arrangement; what professionals to use; and how any comingled money is to be invested.

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