Probate is the legal proceeding initiated to administer a decedent’s estate. You may be nominated in a decedent’s last will and testament to serve as a personal representative, or executor of the estate. In the event that the decedent dies without a last will and testament, it may be necessary to consult with the family or the heirs of the decedent to determine who may serve as the personal representative. A Maryland probate attorney can assist the personal representative or the family of the deceased after the decedent’s death. Attorneys can help clarify the role of the executor in Maryland probate proceedings and provide guidance on the immediate items, such as considering what funds to use to pay the funeral expenses, as well as offer tips on securing the decedent’s assets immediately after death.
Becoming an Executor
An executor in the state of Maryland is actually called a personal representative. A decedent’s last will and testament often nominates the individual that the decedent would like to serve as the personal representative. In the event that all of the individuals nominated to serve as the personal representative are unable or unwilling to do so, or a decedent dies without a valid last will and testament, Maryland law provides which individuals have priority to serve.
A common misunderstanding is that nomination in the decedent’s last will and testament alone enables the individual to act on behalf of the estate. A nominated personal representative must petition the orphan’s court of the proper county to be appointed to serve as the personal representative. If the orphan’s court issues an order granting the petition then the letter of administration will be issued which will serve as the personal representative official authorization to act on behalf of the estate.
Executor’s Role in Maryland Probate Proceedings
An executor, called personal representative in Maryland, has an important role in the estate administration process. A personal representative’s primary duties include marshaling the estate assets upon the decedent’s death, paying, debts, expenses and taxes, and then making distribution pursuant to Maryland law or the decedent’s last will and testament.
The duties of the personal representative can be paperwork-intensive and a time-consuming position depending on the nature and assets of the estate. For example, if it is an estate where the decedent had accounts with multiple financial institutions and several pieces of real estate or business holdings, the personal representative role may be more burdensome than if an individual had only one bank account.
There are a few ways that a decedent can alleviate some of the burden of his or her personal representative prior to death. Individuals can do so by keeping their estate plans up to date and reviewing their documents frequently, being a good record keeper during their lifetime and assembling a team of advisers to assist their personal representative after their death.
How an Attorney Can Help Throughout the Process
It is often prudent to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after the death of a loved one. There may be estate planning and post-mortem estate planning opportunities that need to be preserved. Additionally, the assets or the real estate of the decedent may also need to be preserved after the personal representative is formally appointed by the court.
An attorney may be able to assist the personal representative, commonly known as the executor, throughout the entire process, starting with the preparation of the necessary pleadings to have him or her appointed to serve. The attorney advises the client about his or her duties as the personal representative. An attorney may assist with marshaling of the assets, valuing of the assets and preparation of estate tax returns, as well as making a plan for the distribution when the estate is nearing its close. A lawyer may also assist with preparation of the Maryland estate tax returns and planning for the payment of the inheritance tax.
Benefits of Hiring a Lawyer
Maryland attorneys with experience in probate administration can assist personal representatives with all aspects of the estate administration. For example, they can assist personal representatives with estates who live outside of the state of Maryland so that they do not need to travel to Maryland to administer the estate.
An attorney can help in the initial stages of probate with preparing the pleadings to have the personal representative appointed to serve on behalf of the estate. An attorney can also assist in marshaling all of the assets, valuing the assets as of the date of the death, coordinating to value real estate, tangible personal property, and the decedent’s business interests.
In addition, an attorney assists in preparing any subsequent court reports such as the final report under modified administration and any necessary administrative accounting. Furthermore, an attorney may be available to assist with preparation of the Maryland estate tax returns. Finally, an attorney can also assist with preparing a plan for the distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries or heirs.