The Maryland Probate Process
Probate is the legal process established by Maryland statute for settlement of a decedent’s estate. While some estates do not go through probate, the law requires many estates to complete the procedure.
The probate process begins with filing a petition for probate, requesting that the court open an estate and appoint a personal representative. Until the court approves the requests, no one has authority over property in the estate.
Following appointment, the personal representative of an estate has significant legal responsibilities. For the protection of interested persons and creditors, Maryland law requires a personal representative to be bonded (insured).
Duties of a Maryland Personal Representative
A personal representative must complete specific steps in the probate process, as follows.
- Take possession and control of estate property.
Immediately following appointment, the personal representative must collect and take possession of all estate property. The responsibility includes safeguarding all property in the estate for the duration of probate, until the property is distributed to the beneficiaries or heirs.
- Notify creditors and pay claims.
The personal representative notifies creditors and anyone with a claim against the estate. Generally, any person having a claim against the decedent must file the claim with the court within six months after the date of the decedent’s death. A claim not presented or filed on or before that date is unenforceable thereafter. After identifying all creditors and claims, the personal representative pays all outstanding claims from the assets in the estate.
- Notify interested persons.
Within 20 days of appointment, the personal representative is required to file with the court a list of names and addresses of the beneficiaries named in the will (legatees) and the decedent’s next-of-kin who would inherit in the absence of a will (heirs). The Register of Wills then mails notice to all interested persons that an estate has been opened and advises them of their legal rights.
In Maryland, any person having an objection to the probate of the decedent’s will must file their objections with the court within six months of the date of appointment of the personal representative. By law, an objection not filed within six months is time barred.
- File tax returns and pay income taxes and wealth transfer taxes.
The personal representative must file the decedent’s final income tax returns, as well as the estate’s income tax returns. An estate is a separate legal entity which requires its own tax identification number, and its own set of income tax returns, both federal and state.
Maryland largely repealed its inheritance tax in 2000. Under current law, spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters, and charities all are entirely exempt from inheritance tax. Distributions to more distant relatives (like nieces, nephews, and cousins) and to friends, however, are still subject to a 10% inheritance tax.
- File an inventory.
The next step is for the personal representative to file an inventory of all property in the estate with the Register of Wills. The inventory should list, reasonably describe, and state the date-of-death fair market value of each item of property in the estate. In some situations, a professional appraisal may be necessary to establish the value of an item. The cost of appraisal is paid out of the estate as an administration expense.
- File an account and distribute funds to the beneficiaries.
After completion and filing of the inventory, the personal representative prepares an account of the estate property and files the account with the Register of Wills. The account should include:
- The date-of-death value of all estate property, as reported on the inventory
- Miscellaneous receipts (like refund checks)
- Sales of estate property (with verifying statements attached)
- Income (such as interest earned on an estate bank account)
- Expenses (including payments to creditors, the cost of appraising estate property, and the cost of preparing tax returns)
- Proposed distributions to the beneficiaries
The personal representative must verify under the penalty of perjury that the contents of the account are true to the best of the personal representative’s knowledge, information, and belief. The personal representative must serve notice of the filing of the account on each interested person.
The Register of Wills audits the account. Following audit by the Register and approval of the account by the court, the court immediately executes an order of approval, subject to any exceptions. An exception must be filed within 20 days after entry of the order approving the account, and shall include the grounds therefor in reasonable detail. A copy of the exception must be served on the personal representative.
If no timely exceptions are filed, the order of the court approving the account becomes final. The court order approving the final account automatically closes the estate.
The Law Office of Henry Nash: Helping Families and Individuals Navigate the Maryland Probate Process
Attorney Henry Nash has extensive experience in probate and estate administration. If you need assistance with the probate process and securing appointment as the personal representative of an estate, we have the knowledge and background to address your needs.
At The Law Office of Henry Nash, we work with clients in Rockville, throughout Montgomery County, and elsewhere in Maryland. We also assist out-of-state personal representatives for Maryland estates. If you have questions about any of our services, we welcome you to call us at (301) 998-6111 or contact us through our online form.