Answering Common Maryland Probate & Estate Questions
What is a Last Will and Testament?
Does a Will dispose of all assets?
Who can make a Will?
Are there formal requirements for a valid Will?
Can a Will be changed?
When should a Will be changed?
What if I die without a Will?
Who should prepare your Will?
Who should be my Personal Representative?
Q: What is a Last Will and Testament?
A: A Last Will and Testament, or simply a Will, is a written document that directs the disposition of a person’s property after death.
Q: Does a Will dispose of all assets?
A: A Will can dispose of certain types of assets, called “probate assets, which belong solely to you or are titled only in your name. A Will may not affect the disposition of property that is titled jointly because property titled in this manner may automatically belong to the surviving joint owner(s) upon the death of the other joint owner(s). Typically, a Will does not dispose of insurance proceeds unless your estate or trust created under your Will is named as a beneficiary of those proceeds. Retirement account benefits or annuities are usually unaffected by a Will unless the estate or trust created under the Will is designated as the beneficiary.
Q: Who can make a Will?
A: Anyone who is a least 18 years of age and of sound mind can make a Will.
Q: Are there formal requirements for a valid Will?
A: In Maryland, you must sign your Will and two or more witnesses must sign the Will in your presence. Each witness must be at least 18 years of age. Wills do not have to be notarized in Maryland.
Q: Can a Will be changed?
A: If you are competent, you can change your Will at any time by signing a document called a Codicil or by having a new Will prepared. Either document must be executed with the same formal requirements as the original Will.
Q: When should a Will be changed?
A: A significant change in personal or financial circumstances may mean that your Will should be revised or replaced. For example, births, deaths, adoptions, or a change in marital status warrants a review of your Will. Changes in federal or state tax laws may also necessitate revisions in your Will.
Q: What if I die without a Will?
A: If you die without a Will, state law will determine how your assets will be distributed. In Maryland, for example, if you are survived by a spouse and at least one minor child, your spouse will receive one-half of your probate assets and your children will receive the other half.
If you are married with no minor children, and one or both of your parents are still alive, then your spouse will receive the first $15,000.00 of your probate assets, plus one-half of the balance of all other probate assets. The remaining probate assets will pass to your parents. Your surviving spouse will receive the entire probate estate only if you have no descendants or parents who survive you. If you have no surviving spouse, your descendants will receive all probate assets. Your siblings or more remote relatives will receive a portion of your probate estate if a spouse, parent or descendant does not survive you.
Q: Who should prepare your Will?
A: Your Will should be prepared by an attorney experienced in drafting estate planning documents to ensure that you are informed of all legal requirements and options available to you, to protect against or minimize the impact of estate and inheritance taxes, and to ensure that your property will be distributed according to your wishes.
Q: Who should be my Personal Representative?
A: A Personal Representative or PR (commonly known as an executor) is the individual or institution named to handle the administration of your estate. The PR should be a person or institution capable of handling financial matters, maintaining detailed records, and administering your estate, as well as being someone you trust.