Maryland Probate Process FAQs
What is probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process of identifying and distributing the assets of someone who has died (the "decedent"). A will typically dictates how assets are distributed, but if there is no will, Maryland law determines who inherits what.
How long does probate take?
If an estate is insolvent - the expenses and debts exceed the assets - the Register's office will open and close it the same day. If the estate is solvent, most creditors have 6 months to file a claim, so that's the earliest an estate could close. Most estates close within a year of being opened, but they can be open longer if there is conflict among the interested persons.
What do I need to bring to the Register of Wills?
- Multiple copies of the certified death certificate
- The original will (if there is one)
- Car titles
- Funeral contract and expenses
- Names and addresses of interested persons
- Real estate deeds
- Your driver's license
What is a Personal Representative?
The Personal Representative is responsible for filing paperwork with the court and handling the estate. They must:
- Identify and value estate assets
- Secure and maintain estate assets
- File an estate inventory
- Notify creditors and pay valid debts
- Distribute property to beneficiaries
- Close the estate with the court
What happens if someone dies without a will in Maryland?
The government's intestate succession plan will decide who gets your property, based on your family members.
Which assets go through probate?
Probate assets are titled in the decedent's name alone. Non-probate assets (like jointly owned property) transfer outside of probate.
What are the most common mistakes Personal Representatives make?
- Comingling funds
- Failing to maintain estate property
- Failing to insure or secure estate property
- Incorrectly valuing property
- Not communicating with beneficiaries
- Not understanding taxes
- Improper distributions
What about real estate in probate?
Beneficiaries can decide what to do with real estate, such as keep it, sell it, or buy each other out. If real estate is located outside of Maryland, a separate probate may be needed.
Do I need a lawyer?
Many estates are simple enough that you may not need to retain legal counsel. However, if you feel overwhelmed by having to handle an estate, if there is conflict in the family, or there are complex assets involved, you should consider hiring an attorney to take over the estate for you.
Are there fees?
The Register's fees are set by the Maryland General Assembly and vary depending on the value of the estate. There is no fee for a Small Estate, however there is a fee for a Regular Estate. Please consult the Register of Wills website for a full breakdown of the probate fee schedule.
Do I have to pay taxes?
There may be tax issues to address after someone has passed away. If you have questions about estate taxes, you should contact an attorney, the Comptroller, or the IRS. The Registers of Wills do, however, collect Maryland inheritance taxes. This is a flat 10% tax based on the relationship of the individual inheriting, whether it is a probate or non-probate transfer. Spouses, registered domestic partners, descendants, ancestors, siblings, and stepchildren are exempt. If you have a question about the inheritance tax, call the Register's office.
Will I go before a judge?
If there is disagreement among family members, the Orphans' Court may hold a hearing. Otherwise, all Regular Estate accounts and petitions go before the court, while most Small Estates and estates in Modified Administration never require action by the court. Most estates are handled exclusively by the Register of Wills' staff and do not involve the court.
A loved one has passed away. Where do I start?
After someone close to you has passed away, your responsibilities depend on if they had a will, if they had assets titled solely in their name ("probate assets"), and the value of those assets. Assets can include real property (homes or land), motor vehicles, any kind of financial accounts, tangible items owned by the decedent, and more.
- If the decedent died with no will or probate assets: You don't need to open an estate and don't have anything to file with the Register of Wills.
- If the decedent died with a will but no probate assets: You will need to file their Last Will & Testament with the Register of Wills. This is required to ensure that if any probate assets are ever located, the decedent's final wishes regarding who would serve as their personal representative (also known as an "executor") and who would inherit are both honored. There is no fee for filing the will.
- If the decedent died (with or without a will) with probate assets: You will need to file the will (if any) and petition to be appointed personal representative of the estate. The Register of Wills will guide you on which papers are required, how to account for the assets, and which type of estate you'll need to open.
How do I open an estate?
To open an estate and be appointed Personal Representative, you'll need to bring in or mail some documents to the Register of Wills in the jurisdiction (the county or Baltimore City) in which the decedent was domiciled (their permanent home). You'll need to provide the following: Last Will and Testament (original, unless only a copy can be located), Death certificate (copy or original) or any proof of death, Date of death value of probate assets & debts (including funeral bill), Title to motor vehicles (original or copy), Names and addresses of "interested persons" (all heirs and legatees), Nominal Bond (depending on the value of the estate), Filing fee.
Who will inherit?
If the decedent died with a Last Will & Testament, we will follow the terms of the will to determine who will inherit, provided the estate is solvent and the assets and funds are available. If they died without a Last Will & Testament, they are considered to have died "intestate," and Maryland law determines who inherits based on which heirs survived the decedent. This begins with the spouse or registered domestic partner, then children and grandchildren, then parents, then descendants of parents (siblings, nieces, and nephews), etc. The Register of Wills can assist with determining who the heirs are. If we cannot locate any blood relative as far removed as descendants of the decedent's grandparents or any stepchildren, an estate will "escheat" and will be distributed to the local Board of Education.
What types of estates are there?
- Will of No Estate: Used when the decedent died with a will and no probate assets. There is no fee.
- Small Estate: Used when assets total $50,000 or less. A simple list of assets and debts is required. If the assets don't exceed the funeral expenses and family allowances you won't be required to publish notice of the estate in the newspaper. In rare cases, you may need a bond.
- Regular Estate: Used when assets exceed $50,000. An initial estimate of the value of the estate is required, then you are given 3 months to file a formal inventory of assets, and 9 months to file a first account. The Register's auditors will assist with this process. The accountings are subject to approval by the Orphans' Courts.
- Modified Administration: Used as a more streamlined alternative to a Regular Estate, when all heirs and legatees consent and the estate can be closed within 10 months. Instead of a formal inventory and account, a final report is required and reviewed by the Register of Wills. These estates are not subject to approval by the Orphans' Courts.
For more information, visit us online at registers.maryland.gov.
Disclaimer: This brochure is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute or is intended to constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney for any legal advice.
Source of Information
This instructional material were sourced from "Probate Process in Maryland: Everything You Need to Know, Explained by an Estate Attorney" By Greg Jimeno For original documents and further legal resources, please visit HERE
Other information was sourced from the Maryland Registers of Wills, You can view that here HERE