When someone passes away, their "stuff" will be distributed or "bequeathed" to the deceased person's heir by inheritance. In Maryland, if you have a Will in place there will be a named Personal Representative. This is who will represent your Estate (your "stuff") in the Orphans Court of Maryland through the Probate process. Probate is the legal proceeding to re-title or transfer your Estate ("stuff") to your heirs or legatees. Taking their items or transferring items of the Decedent (person who died) without the permission of the Orphans Court is illegal and considered theft.
If you do not have a Will in place, it is called Intestate and there are specific laws in place to direct how your Estate is distributed. For example, if you are married and pass away without a Will then 50% will be given to your Parents, and the other 50% to your spouse.
No, this is not required for people who have a properly formed Trust in place to hold their "stuff" or if they have setup Payable on Death procedures on their investments. Assets held in Trust are transferred outside the Orphans' Court and does not require court oversight. Neither Trusts nor beneficiary designations are done for the avoidance of Inheritance Tax.
We do not generally recommend Payable on Death arrangements as a primary plan since they may have unintended consequences to those individuals who will receive those assets, especially if the heir is on Government Benefits or are exposed to Creditors, Predators, or Divorce.
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If you have a Trust in place, the Trustee named in your documents will privately administer your Estate. If you have a Will or no documents in place, the Orphans Court will appoint a Personal Representative to manage and distribute your Estate through the public Orphans' Court on Maryland.
Yes, Probate is avoidable and will only be required for those without a plan in place to avoid it.
Although we highly recommend reaching out to your Estate Planning attorney for assistance, we understand that this is a very difficult and private time.
If you have any questions or need help, the Register of Wills in your county is a great resource and Stouffer Legal is available anytime you need professional help as well. Simply call our office at 443-470-3599 or email us to schedule a no cost consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org.