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The Steps Involved in Probate

Probate is the legal process of “proving” a will, and can vary depending on the value of the estate and the presence of a comprehensive will. Here, the estate attorneys at The Law Office of James A. List explain the steps involved in probate.

Determine Estate Size

In Maryland, probate procedure is determined by the size of the estate: either regular or small. A regular estate is one whose fair market value equals $30,000 or more—in the instance of a surviving spouse inheriting the entire estate, the value increases to $50,000. A regular estate must go through traditional probate within the Maryland Orphan’s Court, but a small estate valued under $30,000 is eligible for modified administration: A faster and more streamlined process, which must be approved by all the heirs to the estate.

Appointing an Executor

The executor of the will, also known as the personal representative, is either appointed by the court if one is not named in the will, or approved by the court after the will is deemed valid. An individual must petition the Orphan’s Court to become the personal representative. If they are approved, they must file a Petition for Administration and a Schedule A generally describing the estate’s assets.

The personal representative must then post a bond to act for the estate, after which the estate will be considered “open” for probate. The personal representative is then required to inform any creditors that it is now time to file any applicable claims against the estate.

Taking Inventory of the Estate

Each estate must be inventoried, meaning all property should be accounted for and given a fair market value. This can include personal property, real estate, cash assets and more. Any jointly-owned property will automatically be inherited by the joint owner. If a living trust was established, this too will avoid probate, and instead go automatically to the beneficiaries of the trust.

Pay Debts and Distribute Property

Debts, expenses and taxes will have to be paid upon completion of the estate inventory. A tax return for the estate, as well as a personal income tax return for the decedent is filed for the final year of their life. Creditors are paid what they are owed, and any remaining property is distributed according to the will. If the will does not specify the inheritors of the property, the property is distributed based on probate law.

Primary beneficiaries, such as the spouse, parents and children of the decedent will typically inherit the property. If primary beneficiaries do not exist, secondary beneficiaries, such as siblings or cousins, inherit the property. It is only if a decedent has no beneficiaries that their estate be subject to the state. Otherwise, the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, or the Board of Education in the county where they passed away, will receive the property.

Speak with an Experienced Estate Attorney

At The Law Offices of James List, estate law and proceedings are our specialty. We have the experience and knowledge to handle any estate and inheritance situation quickly and effectively. For more information or to consult with one of our legal representatives, we urge you to contact us today.