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Distributing the Estate to Heirs or Beneficiaries in Maryland

The distribution of the assets to heirs or beneficiaries in Maryland is dependent on whether the decedent died with or without a Last Will and Testament. If an individual has a Last Will and Testament, typically it will recite how the assets are going to be distributed or held in the trust, depending on the terms and provisions. After the passing of their loved one, a family should contact an experienced estate and trust attorney to discuss these provisions. The attorney will have experience working specifically distributing the estate to heirs or beneficiaries in Maryland.

Any assets in the decedent’s sole name are distributed in equal shares to the decedent’s children. Another common misunderstanding is when a parent dies without leaving a Last Will and Testament and one or many children claims they were closest to them. However, how close someone was to the deceased is irrelevant; the nature of the relationship does not affect the distribution in Maryland law so all three are entitled to equal distribution of the estate.

Estate Conflicts

Conflicts may include how estates are being administered, a perceived breach of fiduciary duty, whether or not a will is valid, meaning does an heir know of another will that was valid or have questions regarding the validity of the Will or other issues that relate to the administration of the estate.

If an individual does not have a Last Will and Testament then the intestacy laws of Maryland will step in to determine how those assets will be distributed, which is typically according to the bloodline. With the common misunderstanding of the laws of intestacy is that the personal relationship to the decedent does not factor into the distribution. People have said, for example, “My parent died, they had three children but I am the oldest, I should get everything”, but that is not how Maryland determines distribution in intestacy where an individual died without a Last Will and Testament.

Maryland Retirement Accounts

Retirement accounts in Maryland are distributed after death pursuant to an heir or beneficiary designation filed prior to the decedent’s death. If a financial institution does not have a beneficiary designation on file, then the company will often have their procedures for the distribution of account.  Often, without a beneficiary designation, a retirement account will be payable to a decedent’s estate.

Order of Priority

The Maryland order of priority is a strict rule; however, it can be adapted with the agreement of the other class of individuals who have priority to serve. For example, an elderly spouse of a decedent may consent to their child serving in their stead.

The order of priority describes the Maryland law that provides for who has priority to serve on behalf of the estate in the event that a testator died without heirs or beneficiaries. If there is no Last Will and Testament to nominate who shall serve then the order or priority describes which of the individual’s bloodline has priority.

For example, a spouse would have priority over children, children in many cases have priority over grandchildren or siblings such as that, but it is important to note that they are in the order of priority that the largest creditor of the state also has an ability to serve on behalf of the estate even though the creditor may not be a blood relative.

Defining an Interested Person

The rights of the interested persons in Maryland will depend on how they are interested, meaning an heir of an estate where a decedent died with a Last Will and Testament will cease being an interested person once the notice is given if they are also not named as a legatee of the Last Will and Testament.

According to Maryland code estate and trust Section 1-101 (i),

  • “an interested person is a person named as an executor in a will; a person serving as the Personal Representative after judicial or administrative probate; a legatee and not being fully paid whether their interests are vested or contingent; an heir of a testate decedent ceases to be an “interested person” when the register has given notice pursuant to other code sections of the article.”
  • “Interested person includes a person as defined who is (a) a minor or other person under a disability, or (b) the judicially appointed guardian, committee, conservator or trustee for such person, if any, and if none, then the parent or other person having assumed responsibility for such person.”

Common Misconceptions

Many interested persons believe that they have the right to determine or to make every decision based on the estate. For example, if someone is an heir beneficiary of an estate in Maryland, they think that they have the right to be consulted with regard to every decision throughout the estate administration. That is not always the case. A Personal Representative is tasked with making those decisions and often, in some cases, they will report those decisions on an accounting, that heir or interested person is not necessarily entitled to consenting every decision that is made on behalf of the estate.