Richmond Davis, Esquire
"Helping People Plan for the Future
in Columbia and the Baltimore-Washington region"
In a very basic sense, probate is a process of determining who gets what when a person dies.
Opening the Estate
Typically, the first step is to file the person's Last Will and Testament with the Register of Wills which is usually located in the local county Circuit Court building (where the decedent lived).
If there is no formal will, a family member who wants to handle the person's family affairs will still notify the Register of Wills which will open what is called an "intestate" estate. (In fact, everyone has a back-up will. The law specifies who gets what - normally, family members when there is no formal Last Will and Testament.)
The person responsible for carrying out the late person's wishes is called a personal representative (some states still use the old-fashioned term "executor") who has been named in the will. If there is no will, usually the next of kin is appointed by the Orphans'/Probate Court.
The personal representative's first job is to determine and collect the decedent's property both personal and financial. That means all personal possessions, real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, etc.
The property will need to be valued (some will probably need to be formally appraised). A written inventory must be filed within 90 days after the personal representative is appointed.
Depending upon what the will says, some property will need to be sold while other items may be given to specified beneficiaries.
The decedent's bills are then paid including the filing of the final personal income tax return. Usually, 6 months must pass to allow for claims by creditors to be made, so final distribution (mentioned below) cannot occur until after that period of time has elapsed.
Following the payment of bills, remaining money is paid to the Register of Wills for probate fees (typically, $500 to $1,000), legal fees which usually depend on the estate's complexity, and the personal representative's commission which, if collected, is usually about 4% of the total value of the estate's assets. What is left over is divided up among the beneficiaries.
Closing the Estate
As part of the final estate activities, a written account is filed with the Register of Wills. It lists the estate's assets, what happened to them, expenses of the administration and the proposed distribution of remaining estate funds and property.
Upon the Court's approval of that final account, the personal representative's job is usually finished.
Note: Taxes are usually not a concern. Federal estate tax doesn't kick in below $5.5 million (as of 2017); state taxes are triggered at $3 million (and that level is going up), and inheritance taxes are zero if beneficiaries are in the "bloodline" (spouse, mom/dad, children/grandchildren).
I can help you with probate. Please call Richmond Davis (410-730-5550) to schedule an appointment.