Thinking about end-of-life scenarios is not exactly an enjoyable activity. In fact, most people have a tendency to understandably avoid thinking about their mortality. However, despite how uncomfortable the concept is, it is important to get your Will done sooner rather than later. Regardless of how healthy you are or how complicated your assets are, failure to complete a Will can create significant stress and legal challenges for your family after your passing.
Not completing a Will can leave the division of your estate up to the judges and the state. As a result, the way you had intended to divide your financial assets may not take place according to your personal wishes.
Sometimes people may avoid a Will because they think these documents are only for complicated estates, or people with vast financial assets. Regardless of your status, having a Will can make life much easier and less stressful for your heirs upon your passing.
This article will discuss some of the necessary steps involved in getting a Will in Maryland and Washington D.C., as well as some important suggestions and thoughts to keep in mind.
What Happens If You Don’t Have a Will?
If you die in Washington D.C. or Maryland and you do not have a Will, your estate will become what is known as “Intestate.” An intestate estate is one which will be divided and spread among your heirs based on the state’s determination and not yours.
In Washington D.C., your estate will first pass on to your closest relatives. The laws in Washington D.C. consider your spouse and your children to be your closest relatives. The estate will be divided equally. There is also a legal concept called “per stirpes” that is incorporated into intestate estates in Washington D.C. Per stirpes means that if your child pre-deceases you, the estate will pass on to their children instead. If you have no spouse or children, the courts will seek out your parents to pass on the estate. If your parents also cannot be found, distant relatives such as aunts and uncles will be sought. If no distant relatives are found, your estate and everything you leave behind will become the property of the Washington D.C. government.
In Maryland, the rules are somewhat similar except for the amount of assets that are divided. An intestate estate will be divided in such a way that your children will receive all your estate if you have no spouse. If you have a spouse and no children, the spouse inherits everything. If you have a spouse and descendants above 18, the spouse receives the first $40,000 of the estate and then half of the rest. The descendants will receive everything else. If you have a spouse to whom you have been married less than five years, and living parents, the spouse receives first $40,000 of intestate property and then half of the rest. If you have no spouse or children, your parents will be sought out to pass on your estate. If your parents also cannot be found, distant relatives will be sought out. Like Washington D.C., if absolutely no relatives can be found, the estate becomes the State of Maryland’s property.
It is clear that dying without a Will can cause a significant amount of stress and confusion among the loved ones you leave behind. When the court goes through its intestate process, it does not consider your relationships with the relatives as it goes down its list looking for people to inherit your assets. Familial relationships are complicated, and you may have specific wishes that you want incorporated into your estate upon your death. It is for these reasons that you should strongly consider getting a will done now rather than later.
Advanced Planning Considerations
Although the process of getting a Will may seem complicated, there are several paths you can take to simplify the process. Generally, it is strongly advised to speak with an experienced attorney who can draft a Will to your exact specifications.
Here are some of the issues to consider.
Last Will & Testament
In Maryland, a last will and testament requires two witnesses to sign along with the testator (the person for whom the will is being prepared). Although notarization of a simple will is not required, it is strongly advisable to have the document notarized. The completed Will can be filed in the Register of Wills. In Washington D.C., similar rules apply for a last will and testament.
This type of document can be simple or complex, it mainly comes down to how complex your assets are. An experienced attorney can assist you in drafting a last will and testament that covers all of your final wishes.
In both Washington D.C. and Maryland, people have the option to create a living will, also known as an advanced directive. This type of will does not have to do with the division of your assets and estate; however, it does deal with end of life care. This important document will tell doctors and relatives how you wish to be cared for in the event you are incapacitated or no longer able to make your own healthcare decisions as you near the end of your life.
This document will provide family and loved ones with peace of mind in an otherwise stressful and scary time.
These documents will allow you to determine who will take care of your children and how assets will be divided among them after your death. This only applies to situations in which the children are under age 18. Additionally, if guardianships are to be appointed for the minor children, both parents either must have passed, or one must have passed and the other one must be completely unreachable and uninvolved.
In the event that one parent dies and the other is alive, but the living parent is unfit to raise the children, a third party may take guardianship. This is typically a close relative such as a grandparent or aunt and uncle. Incorporating a guardianship provision into your Will is a wise method you can use in order to avoid requiring the third party to petition the court to take guardianship.
Revocable Living Trust
This is an estate plan that may allow your heirs to avoid probate. This process creates an entity while you are still alive that is able to own and control your assets. Trusts do not have to be filed in probate court and the entity can be passed on to the appointed trustee after your passing. The trustee will be responsible for properly dividing and distributing the remainder of the property. This form of estate planning is optimal for complicated and expansive estates and assets.
Guardianships and trusts are helpful in both complicated and uncomplicated estate planning. Regardless of the expansiveness of your estate, this is a helpful tool to incorporate in your estate planning
Contact The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl
At the Law Offices of Thomas Stahl we have years of experience handling estate planning. Whether you are dealing with a simple, uncomplicated estate, or a vast estate with complex familial relations, we can work with you to develop a plan that is tailored to your wishes. Let us help provide you with that peace of mind. Contact us at (410) 696-4326, and we can provide you with a consultation.