If you have recently been named a personal representative in a loved one's Maryland probate administration, you are probably wondering, “how long will the probate process take?” You may have heard that the probate process can be long and fairly costly. In fact, there is a lot of variation in how the probate process works. Let's back up and walk through the process together:
My Loved One Just Passed, How Do I Initiate the Probate Process?
If your loved one has recently passed, the first thing to do is locate any estate planning documents they may have. Look in their home or safe deposit box, check with their attorney, or identify whether their documents have been submitted to the Register of Wills in their county.
Once you have located these documents, determine who is the named personal representative. You may have heard this person called the “executor.” A personal representative is a person who the decedent (that's the person who recently passed) named to administer the estate. If you are the personal representative, you will start taking the next steps in the process. If someone else is named, hand the documents off to them.
If there are no estate planning documents, your loved one's estate will be administered in accordance with the Maryland Intestate Laws. These are default laws that guide probate when an individual has failed to leave instructions behind.
If you do find your loved one's instructions and determine that you are the named personal representative, it will be time to initiate the probate process. You will visit the Register of Wills website or office in the decedent's county, where you can submit a Petition for Probating an Estate. For Montgomery County, where we are located, the office is currently closed to the public, but you can call and access information online.
How Do I Determine the Size of My Loved One's Estate?
The probate process works differently depending on the size of the estate. If the decedent's total property in Maryland exceeds a value of $50,000 (or $100,000, if the sole heir of the decedent is a spouse), then the estate will be considered “regular.” To determine the value of the estate, only take into consideration assets held solely in the name of the decedent and assets held as “tenants in common” (this is distinct from joint tenancy with a right of survivorship).
To help determine the size of the estate, we have to take a short detour to understand probate assets vs. non-probate assets. When we have talked in the past about the function of an estate plan, I have highlighted the importance of keeping as many assets as possible out of probate. Here's why: if assets can pass immediately to the intended heir either because they are jointly owned, there is a beneficiary designation form (as in the case of life insurance policies, bank accounts, and investments), or they are placed in a Trust, there is no need for these assets to go through probate. Therefore, they are called “non-probate assets.” Only assets that otherwise have no legal instructions about how the assets should be transferred will pass through probate.
How Do I Legally Become a Personal Representative?
If you are the named individual in your loved one's estate planning documents or, if they have no estate planning documents, you will need to file a Notice of Appointment with the Petition for Administration. The Notice will be published by the Register of Wills once a week for three weeks in a local newspaper. It may seem like an old-fashioned way of doing things, but this is how the Register of Wills lets the public know that you have been designated the personal representative. It also informs the public that there is a right to file objections to your appointment and to the probate of the Will. Finally, this Notice also gives any of the decedent's creditors a chance to file a claim for debts owed by the estate.
What Are My Responsibilities as a Personal Representative?
Within twenty days of your appointment as the personal representative, you will need to compile a list of “interested persons.” This list should include the name, address, and relationship to the decedent of everyone named in the Will and “heirs at law” (close family members who are entitled to inherit, even if they are not named in the Will).
After all of the steps mentioned so far are completed, the Register of Wills can admit the Will to probate and appoint you as a personal representative. This is officially done when the Register of Wills issues Letters of Administration. Now, the real work begins.
The Letters of Administration will be accompanied by a schedule of filing deadlines. As the personal representative, it will be your job to
- Determine the names and addresses of any creditors who may have a claim against the estate,
- Mail or deliver notice to those creditors,
- Create an Inventory and Information Report of the estate assets, including appraisals that reflect assets' values on the date of the decedent's passing,
- Make an Accounting of the estate assets, showing the beginning balance (as shown on the Inventory) and any change in assets including income, disbursements, taxes, etc.
- Ensure all debts and final taxes are paid,
- Distribute inheritance to all named beneficiaries.
Being a personal representative is not an easy job, but there is support available. The Register of Wills does provide information to help you walk through this process, and we highly recommend that you engage an attorney to take the bulk of this work off of your plate. At The Tyra Law Firm, we provide diligent, detail-oriented probate administration services to help get you through this process.
How Much Does it Cost to Go Through the Probate Process?
The cost of every probate process will be different. The actual filing fees for probate are not that costly. They range from $2 to $2,500, depending on the size of the estate. The bulk of the cost of probate administration, however, lies with the administering of the process. If you live out of the area where your loved one passed, you will likely need to travel regularly to oversee probate administration. There will also be costs associated with appraisals of all motor vehicles, corporate stocks, debts, probate assets (bank accounts, investments, and life insurance policies for which no beneficiary has been listed), and real property. All appraisals should be conducted by a disinterested and professional appraiser. If you choose to hire an attorney to help walk you through this process, there will also be costs associated with those services.
How Long Does the Probate Process Take?
So, back to your original question, how long will this whole process take? At a minimum, the regular probate process will take nine months. This is because those deadlines set by the Register of Wills break out probate administration into about nine months. However, if the estate is particularly large or complex, or if there is any dispute over the estate, the process will likely take longer.
There is Help Available
Of course, there is a lot more to probate administration than we can cover in a short blog post. Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of the process. However, please remember that you don't have to do this alone. There is help available. At The Tyra Law Firm, we do our best to help families create comprehensive and effective estate plans to keep as much out of probate as possible. However, once probate has begun, we know that you want the process to go as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. That's why we also provide probate administration services. We are here for you and your family every step of the way. To get started, give our office a call.