Regardless of your wealth or owned assets, you will likely leave behind an estate that requires transferral of ownership to your family members when you die. Depending on how you titled your property, some of it may have to go through the probate process before your surviving loved ones can take possession. They may also have to pay estate taxes on some or all of this property, making it vital that you speak with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney about strategies to help them avoid this potentially costly, drawn-out process.
Probate is a court-monitored process that values your remaining assets. Eventually, it gets distributed to your named heirs in a Will or according to state intestacy laws should you die without one. Your designated representative will file your will with the Register of Wills seeking official authorization to manage your estate. In cases where no Will was left behind or is found to be invalid by the court, a representative will get assigned by the court based on several factors, including their direct relationship to you and their ability to carry out the duties of administering an estate.
While the average time for a Maryland probate proceeding is a year, and between 12-18 months in DC, countless factors can impact this process, making it impossible to give an exact timeframe. Creditor filings to receive payment from a decedent’s estate can take upwards of nine months to complete alone, in addition to any other claims against the estate. Concluding probate proceedings can also be significantly delayed due to disputes among family members over the conditions outlined in your will.
Because this process can also expose loved ones to tax liabilities, many individuals prefer to use estate planning strategies to avoid or minimize exposure to this process altogether
Suppose you have a deceased family member’s original Will and decide not to begin the probate process right away. In that case, this can lead to tax complications and possibly risk property being handed over to the state’s unclaimed property division. This is because, without an established joint-owner of untitled property, or a known beneficiary, state law requires the probate court to handle transferring ownership of any remaining assets. In cases where a piece of real estate has unpaid property taxes owed, it could be subject to a tax sale to help the local government recoup the money owed.
Upon your passing, administration of your estate should begin, but the type of probate proceeding available to your surviving loved ones will depend on the circumstances of your case. For instance, should you die with assets solely in your name, probate will be necessary to transfer ownership. Regardless if you possess any property or not, if you have a Last Will and Testament, the Register of Wills office needs to receive it.
At the Law Offices of Thomas Stahl, we recognize that our clients have unique estate needs that can impact their beneficiaries’ probate experience. Despite these differences, several steps will remain consistent for the majority of estates passing through the DC probate or Maryland probate process:
In situations where a Will is not present, the court will appoint a representative to your estate, and they will then complete the steps listed above. It should be noted that even if you name an individual to handle your estate’s administration, the court must still review and officially authorize them before they can marshal your assets. Typically, the person you nominated will have to petition the Orphan Court, which will then send them a Letter of Administration to document their appointment.
If you are a named agent of an estate, hearings related to your petition generally do not require your presence in court. You may only get summoned if there is uncertainty about your designation or other family disagreements necessitating in-person proceedings.
If you or a loved one are planning your estate and have concerns regarding estate taxes, creditors, and/or the length of time it will take for probate to conclude your estate, our team is ready to help. At The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl, we provide DC and Maryland families with trustworthy legal advice and skilled representation in estate administration and probate matters.
As a recognized Super Lawyer in 2019–2021, Lead Attorney Thomas Stahl has assisted his clients in navigating their fiduciary responsibilities associated with administering an estate in DC or Maryland. To schedule a consultation to discuss your estate administration and probate concern, contact his office today at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280, or via our online form.