When someone passes away, their estate must go through probate before their property can go to their heirs or loved ones. Probate is a court-supervised process of collecting the decedent’s property, paying off debts they owe, and distributing the remainder.

Probate involves multiple legal complexities, and much depends on the decedent. If they left well-organized records, clear instructions, and sufficient liquidity, probate could be straightforward. However, if the decedent did not keep or organize records, has little cash in the estate, or family dynamics are challenging, probate can be long and arduous.

Working with an estate planning attorney familiar with probate matters in the local courts can ease the process considerably. An Upper Marlboro probate lawyer could explain the tedious probate process, ensure the personal representative understands their obligations, and help the family set reasonable expectations.

Understanding How Probate Works

Probate is the legal process for settling an estate after death. The estate’s personal representative opens an estate by petitioning the Orphan’s Court for letters of administration. These letters give the personal representative access to the decedent’s bank accounts, real estate, and other property held or titled solely in the decedent’s name.

Moving forward, the personal representative collects the property and any debts owed to the decedent. They obtain valuations for property like antiques, art, real estate, and vehicles. If the estate has insufficient liquidity to pay creditors, the personal representative must sell property.

Once the creditors are satisfied, the personal representative distributes the remainder of the estate to the decedent’s heirs, if there is a will. If they died intestate—i.e., without a valid and enforceable will—the personal representative must distribute the property according to the law of intestacy. A local Largo probate attorney can advise a personal representative on how to distribute an intestate decedent’s property.

Helping Families Limit the Property Subject to Probate

Probate typically lasts at least a year. It could take even longer if the personal representative must sell assets to pay the decedent’s debts. This waiting period can be inconvenient for heirs and family members. Without access to the decedent’s bank accounts and other sources of funds, sometimes families face hardship in paying expenses after their loved one dies.

Before death, a person can take steps to minimize their assets that must go through probate. Naming beneficiaries is one way to do so. Only assets a decedent owned as an individual and titled solely in the decedent’s name must go through probate. Assets with a named beneficiary and assets held jointly as tenants in the entirety or with the right of survivorship do not go through probate. Many brokerage accounts allow the owner to name a beneficiary.

Additionally, putting property into joint ownership or a trust is another method to keep property out of probate and put it into loved ones’ hands immediately after death. An Upper Marlboro attorney is available to help individuals and families identify assets subject to probate. Together we can evaluate the situation and determine whether or not it is wise to name a beneficiary or co-owner.

Assisting Personal Representatives in Settling an Estate

When a testator makes a will, they name someone to be the estate’s personal representative. The will usually refers to that person as the Executor or Executrix.

When someone dies without a will, a court will appoint someone to be the estate’s personal representative. That person is often a surviving spouse or adult child, but technically they could be any U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident over 18 who has not declared bankruptcy, been convicted of a felony, and qualifies for a bond.

Probate is often complicated. A personal representative may have to go through poorly organized records to locate the decedent’s property and identify all creditors and debtors. In many cases, they must arrange to sell assets like vehicles or real estate to generate sufficient funds to satisfy creditors. The personal representative must also file tax returns on the estate’s behalf and pay any taxes due.

According to Maryland Estates and Trusts Code § 7-101, the personal representative has a fiduciary duty to manage the estate assets prudently for the beneficiaries of the estate. The job can become overwhelming, especially for someone unfamiliar with the law. Fortunately, an Upper Marlboro probate attorney can work closely with a personal representative to ensure they understand their obligations, meet statutory and other deadlines, and handle tax matters accurately and efficiently.

Trust an Upper Marlboro Probate Attorney to Carry Out Your Wishes

Probate is complicated and intimidating for many people. When you are a personal representative trying to manage an estate, or if you are interested in developing an estate plan to keep your assets out of probate, seek help from a local attorney.

An Upper Marlboro probate lawyer is ready to guide you throughout the process, from estate planning to managing a complex estate. Call our firm today to discuss your situation with a knowledgeable legal professional.