What is probate? As a probate attorney in Silver Spring, I hear this question a lot.
Simply put, probate is the process of transferring property after the person who owned it has passed away. Generally, you must go through probate to transfer property from the deceased, known as the decedent, to the persons who will be receive the property. Probate is also when the debts of the decedent, if any, are paid. The process is sometimes called estate administration, but it is more commonly known as probate.
Step 1: Opening the Estate
In Maryland, the probate process starts by filing paperwork with the Register of Wills in the county where your loved one lived. You can find the forms at website of the Maryland Registers of Wills: https://registers.maryland.gov. To begin the process, you will need the decedent’s will, if there is one, and the death certificate. You will also need to know the approximate value of the decedent’s estate. This ballpark approximation will determine whether the decedent’s estate goes through the regular probate process or the simplified process for small estates.
After filing the appropriate paperwork, the Register of Wills will issue what are called letters of administration. These letters of administration allow the personal representative, the person in charge of administering the estate, to do so.
Step 2: Filing the Inventory and Information Report
Within three months of the appointment, the personal representative must file an inventory and an information report. The inventory includes all property for which the decedent was the sole owner, as well as all property in which the decedent was an owner as tenants in common with someone else. The information report includes all property that the decedent owned less than a whole interest, such as property held as joint tenants with someone else, as well as any property that had a previously designated beneficiary, such as a pay on death account.
The personal representative must obtain an appraisal for property included in both the inventory and the information report. The appraisal must reflect the actual fair market value as of the date of death, and it must include a reasonable description of the property. Approximate values are not acceptable for these appraisals.
Step 3: Distributing Property and Paying Debts of the Estate
The personal representative is responsible for paying the allowable debts of the estate and distributing the decedent’s property as directed by the will or, if there is no will, according to the State’s intestate succession law. The intestate succession law serves as a default will if someone dies without having made a will. For my reasons why you need a will – or estate plan – see my blog on this site entitled My Top Five Reasons to Have an Estate Plan.
Step 4: Accounts
Within nine months after being appointed, the personal representative is required to file an account of the estate. The account must include the beginning balance, as reported on the inventory. It must also include any changes in assets, disbursements, distributions, and if not a final account, the balance retained for future accounting.
Contact my office so that we can help you probate your loved one’s estate.