A comprehensive estate plan may save your family time and money

Although many people will have some interaction with a probate court in their lifetime, most know little about how it works. Equipping yourself and loved ones with some basic knowledge about the Maryland probate process can help you determine how you’d like your estate to be handled.

You should be aware that the Maryland probate process applied depends on the size of the estate. Small estates, generally those with total assets valued at $30,000 or less ($50,000 or less if passing to a surviving spouse), are entitled to a simplified procedure. The value of the estate also determines the court fees that will be assessed. Currently in Maryland, probate fees range from $50 to more than $2,500. This is exclusive of attorney’s fees, which, again, will usually depend on the complexity and size of the estate.

In addition to costs, probate also usually takes more time than other estate planning mechanisms, such as trusts. The average length of a trust administration is estimated to be four to six months, though it could be significantly longer for large, complex estates and those which have a number of creditors. It’s also important to know that the probate process is not private. Once entered by the court, generally the entire estate proceeding becomes a public record.

The probate process begins when the decedent’s named representative files a Petition for Probate with the court. The court, referred to as the Orphan’s Court in Maryland, will oversee the estate administration in accordance with the instructions in the decedent’s will. If a Marylander passes without a will, state law will determine how their assets will be distributed. In this case, the rules the state will apply depend on marital status, whether the person has any children, the age of the children, and other factors.

Not all property will need to be probated. Only property solely owned by the decedent, with some exceptions, goes through the probate process.  For example, if a husband and wife jointly own a house and the husband passes, the wife will usually retain ownership without needing a court’s intervention. Additionally, property which is “payable on death,” such as life insurance policies or retirement funds, will automatically pass to the designated beneficiary.

You should also know that there are estate planning options available to you that may allow you to avoid the probate process even in the case of solely owned assets. The most popular method is a trust, usually accompanied by what is called a “pour-over will.” Essentially, a short will “pours over” all of the decedent’s assets into the trust. A named trustee is then responsible for managing the trust’s assets and distributing them in accordance with its creator’s wishes.

Each family is different, requiring their own, personalized estate plan. The right choice for you will depend on your situation, including the complexity and size of your assets. No matter the size of your estate, you should have a plan in place. The best approach to ensuring your wishes are executed is to work with a knowledgeable Maryland estate planning attorney to create a plan that is as unique as your family. At Altman and Associations, we provide the individualized attention you deserve. For more than 20 years, we have helped families through probate proceedings. We work with you to avoid unnecessary court proceedings where possible. Learn more about your options by contacting us today. Our offices are conveniently located in the Rockville, Bethesda area and in Columbia, Maryland. Call us toll-free at 301-468-3220 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

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