Probate is the actual proving of a last will and testament. When individuals refer to probate, they are usually referring to the court process of administering an individual’s estate after they pass away. The probate process is dependent upon the individual estate and the nature of the assets of the decedent. To help streamline the sometimes complicated process of probate, a skilled Bethesda probate lawyer is essential to someone initiating the process. An experienced attorney will be able to help someone administer their estate effectively and efficiently.
- Probate Court
- Identifying and Marshalling Assets
- Joint Accounts
- Process of Marshalling Assets
- Avoiding Probate
- Simplifying the Probate Process
- Same-Sex Couples
Personal Representative Appointment
For probate to be initiated, the individual who is seeking to serve as the Personal Representative of the estate must petition the court and ask to be appointed as such. There are a number of pleadings that must accompany such a petition, though the specific pleadings required will be dependent on the facts of the case and the nature of the assets.
Once the court reviews these pleadings, an individual will be appointed to serve as the Personal Representative of the estate. A probate lawyer in Bethesda will best be able to help someone understand their role. The court then issues the representative a letter of administration. The letter of administration serves as the individual’s official authority to act on behalf of the estate. In many cases, the appointment of a Personal Representative is accompanied by a notice of appointment, a notice to creditors, and a notice to unknown heirs, which will be published in a local newspaper for three consecutive weeks. The representative then uses the letter of administration to begin marshaling of the assets of the decedent’s estate.
Marshaling the Assets
This process often entails contacting all relevant financial institutions, banks, and brokers, as well as any companies in which the decedent held assets, to request information about the decedent’s assets. Such information generally relates to the value of any held assets and the amount of held shares. At this time, all real estate, corporate holdings, and tangible personal property are also appraised.
While marshaling the assets of the estate with the help of a Bethesda probate attorney, the representative may also collect and merge assets into an estate account. Such an account is used as the operating account of the estate to collect any assets and to pay any expenses or legally enforceable debts. After the assets are marshaled, they usually creates a complete inventory of the assets. While this inventory may be required to be filed with the court, such a requirement will depend on the specific nature of the probate proceeding.
While they are marshaling the assets, creditors have the opportunity to come forth and file a claim against the estate for any debts owed by the decedent on their date of death. The Personal Representative must examine any debts and expenses to ensure that there is sufficient liquidity in the estate to pay all administrative expenses and debts. If there is not enough money in the estate, then Maryland law provides an order of priority by which payments must be made.
If the estate is solvent, meaning the assets outweigh the debts, the estate must file any necessary income or estate tax returns, pay all administrative expenses and legally enforceable debts, and create a plan of distribution. For some estates, a formal accounting is required that accounts for all income, gains, losses, payment of debts and expenses, and other disbursements that have been made. For other estates, a Final Report Under Modified Administration is required that reflects only the assets as of the date of death and the expenses and debts paid from the estate. Once the formal accounting or final report is complete, the Personal Representative will effectuate the distribution of the estate according to the plan of distribution.
Role of an Attorney
The probate process is paperwork intensive and often involves working with a number of professionals, including accountants, appraisers, business appraisers, and real estate agents. It can be very helpful for an individual going through a probate process to work with an probate attorney in Bethesda who can coordinate the estate administration process.
A probate attorney in Bethesda can also advise an individual regarding their rights as an heir or a beneficiary to the estate, or regarding thteir responsibilities are as the Personal Representative of the estate. If an individual has been appointed as the Personal Representative of an estate, an estate attorney can assist with any required paperwork and with marshaling the assets of the estate. An experienced attorney can play an integral role in inventorying all assets and debts, and in completing any required state and/or federal tax returns and filings. Finally, a probate lawyer in Bethesda can help to create a plan for asset distribution and effectuate the process of distribution in an orderly fashion.