What happens to your assets when you pass away if you don’t have a will in place? This situation, known as dying intestate, means your estate will be distributed according to state intestacy laws. These laws provide default inheritance rules that apply when someone dies without an estate plan directing asset distribution. While intestacy laws aim to transfer property to a deceased person’s closest family members, the outcomes may not align with an individual’s wishes.
Understanding Maryland’s intestacy statutes is important, especially for residents who have not yet created customized estate planning documents such as a will or living trust. Intestacy can lead to unnecessary complications and expenses for your loved ones in an already difficult time. A thoughtfully crafted estate plan is the best way to ensure your assets go to your chosen beneficiaries smoothly and efficiently.
How Assets Are Distributed in Maryland Without a Will
When someone dies without a will in Maryland, state law provides for distribution based on blood lineage. In other words, assets go to the deceased person’s closest living relatives in a specific order.
If married with children, the estate is divided between the surviving spouse and children. The spouse receives the first $15,000 plus one-half of the remaining estate balance. The children split the remainder, with the share of any predeceased child going to that child’s descendants.
If married without children, the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate.
For an unmarried individual, the order of inheritance is:
- Parents: If both are alive, each receives an equal share; if only one survives, that parent receives the full amount.
- Siblings: Assets are divided equally among all living siblings. Children of predeceased siblings inherit their parent’s share per stirpes.
- More Distant Relatives: Such as grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins. Tracing family lineage determines distribution.
If absolutely no heirs can be identified, the estate goes to the state of Maryland. The state holds the funds for potential heirs to make a claim.
Special Rules for Surviving Spouses
Maryland intestacy law provides some additional protections for surviving spouses beyond their intestate share. These special allowances aim to prevent a spouse from being left destitute or displaced after their partner’s death:
- Elective Share: The surviving spouse has the right to take an elective share amounting to one-third of the net estate, regardless of what they were left under intestacy statutes. This ensures the spouse receives a fair percentage.
- Family Allowance: For maintenance and support during the estate administration period, a surviving spouse is allowed up to $10,000 from the estate. This allowance has priority over most other claims.
- Homestead Allowance: A surviving spouse is entitled to remain living in the homestead house for 6 months rent-free following the death of their spouse.
- Exempt Property Allowance: The surviving spouse can also claim up to $5,000 in household furnishings, automobiles, and other tangible personal property owned by the deceased spouse.
Inheritance Rights of Children
Under Maryland’s intestacy statutes, certain rules apply regarding the inheritance rights and treatment of children:
- All children are treated equally. Biological and adopted children have equal inheritance rights. Stepchildren are not considered heirs under intestacy.
- Children conceived but not yet born. Posthumously conceived children can inherit provided certain conditions are met, like being born within 2 years of the parent’s death.
- Inheritance may be held in trust for minors. If an heir is under 18 years old, their inheritance may be held in a custodial trust and distributed at certain age milestones rather than given outright. This protects the assets.
- Estranged children still inherit. Children are heirs to an intestate estate regardless of their current relationship with the parent at the time of death.
- Inheritance may be challenged. Children can contest inheritance decisions by making a claim against the estate within a certain time frame after death.
Appointing an Administrator
When someone dies intestate in Maryland, the probate court oversees the appointment of an estate administrator to settle the person’s affairs and distribute assets to heirs:
- Court Appoints Administrator: The probate registrar reviews petitions from interested parties seeking appointment and selects a qualified administrator for the estate.
- Order of Priority: State law establishes an order of priority for granting letters of administration: surviving spouse, other heirs, creditor of estate, or any other interested person.
- Duties and Responsibilities: The administrator inventories assets, pays debts/taxes owed by the estate, provides required notices, and makes appropriate distributions to heirs once the court approves. The administrator must also file regular accountings with the court.
Additionally, the administrator must post a probate bond as insurance for properly performing their duties, unless the bond is waived by the court or heirs. Fees paid to the administrator are set by state statute.
Protecting Your Assets and Family: The Value of a Will
Failure to establish a will means losing control over what happens after you pass away. While intestacy statutes attempt to transfer assets to relatives, the outcomes may not align with your wishes. A legally executed will is critical for avoiding the potential pitfalls of dying intestate.
With a will, you can outline exactly how you want your assets handled and distributed after death. This ensures your possessions go to the loved ones you specifically intend to receive them. Without these clearly documented instructions, disputes can arise among family members leading to bitterness and drained finances through legal fees.
For parents, having a will is especially important for designating guardians for minor children. Without it, the court will decide who assumes care of your children if something happens to you and your spouse. While judges aim to select a responsible caretaker, they do not personally know your family. Your will allows you to thoughtfully choose a guardian who will provide the kind of upbringing you want for your kids.
Work with a Knowledgeable and Compassionate Maryland Estate Planning Attorney
Dying without an estate plan in place can create significant complications, delays, and costs for your loved ones. Appreciating Maryland’s intestacy laws is an important first step. But the best way to ensure your final wishes are carried out and your family is protected is by crafting a customized plan with assistance from experienced legal professionals.
At Baddour Law Firm, our attorneys have spent decades helping Maryland families thoughtfully plan for the future. We provide guidance on wills, trusts, asset protection, and wealth transfer tailored to your unique circumstances and goals. Whether your estate is modest or extensive, proper planning is wise.
To get started securing your family’s future, contact Baddour Law Firm today at (301) 555-1234 to schedule a personalized consultation to discuss your needs.