The death of a loved one is always tragic. When a person dies, their money and property, as well as their debts, become their “estate.” How a person’s estate is managed is generally governed by their Last Will and Testament. When a loved one dies without a Last Will and Testament, supported by a broader Estate Plan, the process of taking care of their affairs can become even more stressful.
Passing away without a Last Will and Testament is known as dying “intestate.” Maryland law has a process by which someone’s affairs are managed if they pass away intestate, and these laws are appropriately known as Maryland Intestacy Law.
Who Manages the Estate?
A Last Will and Testament allows an individual to choose someone they trust to manage the estate, subject to certain rules. They can even choose someone to serve as a backup in case the first person they pick is unable to serve. A person who dies without a Last Will and Testament, however, leaves the decision of who manages their estate up to the courts, who interpret Maryland’s intestacy provisions.
Maryland law generally gives the following individuals priority:
- A person named in the Last Will and Testament (Not applicable when the person dies intestate).
- The deceased person’s spouse and children.
- Other people named in the will (Not applicable when the person dies intestate).
- Other relatives of the person who died.
Determining who becomes the personal representative can be quite complicated, especially if the person who died does not have a spouse and the children are all adults, or if the person is unmarried and has no children.
Who Receives the Property from my Estate?
This, again, depends on what the deceased person’s family looked like at the time of death.
If the person who dies:
- Is not married, but has children: Children inherit everything.
- Is married, but has no children or parents: Spouse inherits everything.
- Is married and has minor children: Spouse inherits half of the property, and the children inherit everything else.
- Is married, and has adult children: Spouse inherits the first $40,000, plus one-half of everything that is left. The adult children inherit everything else.
- Is married, and has been married for less than five years, but no children (adult or minor), AND there is a surviving parent: The spouse inherits the first $40,000, plus one-half of everything that is left. The parents inherit everything else.
- Is not married and does not have children: The parents inherit everything.
- Has no living parents, is not married and has no children: Siblings inherit everything.
What happens if I have minor children?
When a person who has minor children (children who are under the age of 18) passes away, a number of things occur, and it often requires the court to become involved. With regards to property, it can get quite complicated, and it depends on the value and nature of the property. When there is no Last Will and Testament, the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act allows the Personal Representative to transfer the property to another adult or a trust company to act as a custodian of the property. If there is less than $10,000 in cash at issue, the Personal Representative can transfer the money into a bank or to a guardian of the child.
If the person who died had a minor child, the other parent typically becomes the guardian, unless the other parent is deceased or has lost parental rights. A Last Will and Testament allows a parent to nominate someone to act as guardian in case the other parent has died first or cannot otherwise act as guardian.
Contact Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Andrew P. Gross to Discuss Your Options
Although Maryland and other states have established laws that can outline, in broad strokes, what is to happen to a person’s estate after their death, the intestacy laws are broad and meant to cover a wide variety of circumstances. An Estate Plan, built around a Last Will and Testament, can provide peace of mind that when the inevitable occurs, your wishes will be followed and your family can grieve without the additional burden of not being able to know, much less follow your final wishes. Contact Andrew Gross, Esquire, to discuss what options you have for creating a Last Will and Testament.