Probate is the manner in which estates are settled, under supervision of the court. The purpose of the probate system is to prevent fraud after someone’s death. The probate process can vary widely among estates, depending on factors such as the amount of assets and the relationship between beneficiaries and other family members. However, there are some factors relating to the process that are common to everyone. If you have questions about the probate process, or whether you should consider avoiding probate altogether, contact an experienced Maryland probate lawyer for assistance.
In the absence of a will which names an executor, the court will appoint an executor of the estate. The executor has the legal authority to gather and value assets, and ultimately distribute these assets to beneficiaries as designated in the will.
In Maryland, there are a number of steps that need to occur for an estate to be settled. First, the will and accompanying petition must be filed with the Orphan’s Court in the county where the decedent lived. Second, the Court will issue a letter that gives the Executor legal authority to act on behalf of the estate. Then, the executor must file a notice of Probate in local newspapers.
After all the property in the estate has been identified and appraised, and all debts have been paid, the court issues an Order distributing the property, and the estate is closed. The executor will be entitled to compensation for their services, but these are subject to income tax; therefore many Executors forgo them.
Estates that are smaller in size, falling below a certain threshold, do not require supervision of the court to be settled. Some assets pass through to beneficiaries without having to go through probate. These include certain types of property (for example, joint-tenancies), beneficiary designations, and payable on death accounts. Also, if a decedent had a Living Trust, then the estate would not go through probate (unless the assets outside the trust exceed the value set by Maryland’s small estate limit).
The administration of an estate will take a minimum of 6 months—the amount of time required to allow for creditors to make a claim. During this time, the estate is valuing assets and getting ready to make distributions.
An attorney can guide individuals through the entire probate process, including assisting the executor with marshaling and valuing assets, preparing any accounting, and making a plan for the distribution of assets. A lawyer can also help coordinate beneficiary designations and asset titling before a person’s death to ensure that there is sufficient liquidity in the estate to cover taxes and legal fees.
To learn more about how we can help, contact a Towson probate lawyer at the Law Offices of Jayme L. Levy LLC today. Call us at 410-512-6605 or contact us online. Based in Towson, Maryland, we represent clients throughout the state, including families in Columbia, Ellicott City, and Baltimore County, Maryland.