Wills and Estates

 

Everyone living in Maryland should have either a will or a trust that will designate the beneficiary of your estate at the time of your death. In addition, you should have a power of attorney and a health care directive naming someone who can handle your finances and make medical decisions for you if you become incapable of making those decisions for yourself. Your health care directive will also determine the degree of medical care that you want if your life is being sustained by artificial means, also known as a living will.

These documents are vital for anyone who is concerned about how their estate will be handled after their death, as well as how their personal finances will be handled if they should suffer any type of medical disability. Many clients ask me why they need a power of attorney and a medical directive, and I like to tell them that you are planning for your disability and death. Like an insurance policy, you may never need the power of attorney, and you may never need to have anyone make medical decisions on your behalf, but if you do, you will be very grateful that you have them. The alternative is litigation to have a guardian appointed on your behalf, and that is something that can be avoided by having a power of attorney and a health care directive.

A simple will is also vital so that when you die, your heirs will know exactly what you intended to do with your remains, who you want to handle your estate (i.e. your personal representative) and who you want to inherit your estate. Your will can also create a trust for your heirs, particularly if they are minors, and can determine how old they should be before they receive your estate. If you do not have a will, the law will determine these matters for you, and the result may not be what you intended.

A living trust is sometimes used in lieu of a will. It will involve much more planning than a will, and requires close consultation with your attorney. In general, you may transfer your property to a trust, while still retaining control over the trust during your lifetime. When you die, the trust will remain as a whole, but your ownership interest in the trust usually passes to your surviving spouse, who then controls the trust until her death. At that time, management of the trust would pass to the persons designated in the trust, who would distribute it to the persons named as beneficiaries in the trust. You will need to transfer your assets into the trust, either by changing the name on your bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc, and you will also need to prepare deeds to transfer your real estate into the trust.

An estate is opened when you die and your heirs need to probate your estate. If you have a will, the personal representative will usually work with your attorney to file the necessary documents, inventory your estate, obtain appraisals, file your final tax returns, and ultimately dispose of your estate. At that point an accounting needs to be filed, and an audit is done by the register of wills. If you have been named as a personal representative, our firm can assist you with this process. We have worked with dozens of clients to demystify the process and to help them finalize an estate. If a loved one has died without a will, an estate must still be opened (i.e. an “intestate estate”) so that their assets can be distributed to their family in accordance with the laws of Maryland. We have handled many such estates, and will be glad to assist you in that endeavor.

If you need any of these documents, or assistance with an estate, please contact us and we will be glad to help. Because we have prepared thousands of such documents, our fees are very reasonable, and we can usually schedule an appointment to start the process within twenty four hours.