Have you ever wondered what would happen if you died without a Will?
As in most states, Maryland has a set of default rules used to determine who will inherit from your estate if you were to die without a valid Will. These rules are found in the Maryland Intestacy Laws.
When a person dies “intestate,” it means that they died without a valid Will. The intestacy laws determine who will inherit property from the decedent. They also establish who inherits property first and the percentage of the estate each person is entitled to inherit.
Any part of a decedent’s estate that a valid Will does not effectively dispose of must be distributed by the Personal Representative to the heirs of the decedent following the Maryland Intestacy Laws.
First, the Maryland Intestacy Laws consider the share of the intestate estate that a surviving spouse is entitled to. If there is a surviving minor child, the surviving spouse is entitled to a one-half share. If there is no surviving minor child, but there is a living lineal descendant, the share shall be the first $40,000.00 plus one-half of the residue of the estate.
Suppose there are no living lineal descendants, but there is a surviving parent. In that case, additional considerations apply when determining the surviving spouse’s share. If the surviving spouse and the decedent were married for less than five years, the spousal share is the first $40,000.00 plus one-half of the residue. However, if the surviving spouse and the decedent were married for at least five years, the surviving spouse is entitled to the whole estate.
If there are no living lineal descendants or parents, the surviving spouse is entitled to the whole estate.
Surviving Living Lineal Descendants
The Maryland Intestacy Laws then explore how the net estate is divided among surviving living lineal descendants. The law requires that the net estate (after subtracting the spousal share) is divided “by representation.” This means that the property is divided into as many equal shares as 1) the number of children of the decedent who survived the decedent plus 2) the number of children of the decedent who did not, but whose living lineal descendants did survive the decedent. Each of the decedent’s children who did survive the decedent receives one share, and each living lineal descendant of the non-surviving children of the decedent also receives one share.
What if there are No Surviving Living Lineal Descendants?
If there are no living lineal descendants, the Personal Representative must distribute the net estate to the surviving parents equally. If only one parent survives the decedent, the net estate goes entirely to the surviving parent. If neither parent survives the decedent, the net estate is to be distributed to the living lineal descendants of the parents by representation (as described above).
What if there is No Surviving Parent or Living Lineal Descendant of Decedent’s Parent?
If there is no surviving parent or living lineal descendant of a parent, the net estate is to be distributed one-half to the surviving paternal grandparents equally and one-half to the surviving maternal grandparents equally. If only one paternal or maternal grandparent survives, the entire half-share goes to that surviving grandparent. If neither paternal or maternal grandparent survives, the half-share is to be distributed to the living lineal descendants of the paternal or maternal grandparents by representation (as described above).
If neither of one pair of grandparents and none of the living lineal descendants of either couple survives, their share is to be distributed to the other pair of grandparents, the survivor of the other pair of grandparents, or their living lineal descendants by representation.
Suppose there are no surviving grandparents or living lineal descendants of grandparents. In that case, the Personal Representative is to distribute one-quarter of the net estate to each pair of surviving great-grandparents equally or their survivor or living lineal descendants according to the same pattern above.
What if there are No Surviving Blood Relatives?
If there are no surviving blood relatives of the decedent, the Personal Representative is to distribute the net estate to any stepchildren by representation.
If there are no stepchildren, then the Personal Representative may be required to convert the net estate to cash and make payment to the Maryland Department of Health, provided the decedent was a recipient of long-term care benefits under the Maryland Medical Assistance Program.
Why is Having a Will so Important?
If you do not have a Will, the Maryland Intestacy Laws will require your Personal Representative to distribute your estate exactly as stated above, and the administration of your estate will be much more expensive and time-consuming. The importance of having a valid Will cannot be overstated. If you would like to explore different estate planning options or need legal advice, please give me a call at 301-563-6685.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The firm represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country and practices family law throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia. The firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and their attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685