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How Does the Court Handle Estate Administration?

Understanding how the Court handles estate administration

Probate is the method by which judicial officials, including probate judges, process a decedent’s will. While state probate laws may vary, the general process of estate administration is quite similar across the country. Probate is the process of proving wills for decedents. A probate judge will also oversee cases where the deceased person did not prepare a will, known as dying intestate. Depending on the size of the estate, probate can conclude quickly or take more than a year. If an estate’s value is below a certain amount, probate may become streamlined regarding property transfer. Most probate issues are county-based decisions.

What Happens without a Will or Beneficiary Contests?

If a decedent leaves a will and no beneficiary contests it, the probate judge has a minor but significant role in the estate administration. While laws have variations, these general steps hold when entering probate.

  • Opening a probate case with court – The estate’s personal representative will file the decedent’s Will with the probate court. In Maryland, the Decedent’s Will is filed with the Register of Wills in the County where the decedent resided. Similarly, in the District of Columbia, the Decedent’s Will is filed with the Probate Division of the D.C. Superior Court. The probate court will make a finding as to the Will’s legality and makes sure no one object to the admission of the Will to probate. For example, a legatee or heir may claim that the decedent was experiencing undue influence or coercion when making the Will. In some cases, the judge may declare it a case of a contested Will. Without any objections to the Will, the named personal representative receives approval and can move forward to administer the estate of the decedent.
  • Notification of interested parties – The personal representative will place notices in a newspaper of general circulation so that creditors of the decedent are made aware of the death. Other parties interested in the decedent’s estate include any possible heirs as well as creditors. The personal representative must contact all heirs named in the Will if possible. If they cannot locate all heirs, the newspaper notices of death will have to suffice. Creditors have a specific time frame to submit any claims against the estate to the probate court. In Maryland, creditors have six months from the date of the decedent’s death to file a claim. Likewise, in the District of Columbia, creditors have six months from the date of the appointment of the personal representative to file a claim.
  • Estate asset inventory – The personal representative will inventory estate assets, both physical and financial, and assess the individuals worth on the date of the decedent’s death. The probate judge and heirs will receive the inventory filing information. Taking an estate’s inventory is often time-consuming as well as a lot of work. Some physical properties may require a sale, such as a home. Positions of stocks and bonds may also require selling or other administrative action to divide among heirs. Personal representatives will typically receive compensation for this work by inheritance or a statement in the will addressing the form of compensation to receive. If an estate is large enough, a personal representative may hire a probate attorney for assistance.
  • Asset distribution – Upon inventory completion, the probate judge authorizes the distribution of assets as long as the will is uncontested. At this time, the creditor’s debt, the debts of managing the estate, and minor children’s inheritance become actionable. All debts are to receive payment from the estate, even if it requires the sale of assets. Like life insurance policies or retirement accounts, accounts with a named beneficiary are liquid and distributed to the appropriate beneficiary. The personal representative must file final taxes for the decedent, both federal and state.
  • Terminating the estate – After the estate’s distribution is complete to the heirs, the probate judge ensures all creditors receive payment and closes the estate. Although the estate is officially closed, it remains a part of the public record.

If the decedent dies intestate (without a will), these same general steps apply. However, the process is more complex, and the probate judge has considerably more input and oversight. The judge will appoint an administrator (personal representative) to inventory the estate and post newspaper notices for creditors and other interested parties. In the absence of a will, the law of intestate succession applies. Each state identifies the order in which the decedent’s next of kin can inherit; they receive notice, assets distributed, and the estate is closed. 

We Have the Tools to Help You With Estate Administration

Contact McDonald Law Firm today at (443) 741-1088; (301) 941-7809 or (202) 640-2133 to schedule a no obligation consultation with Andre O. McDonald, a knowledgeable Howard County, Montgomery County and District of Columbia probate attorney.


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For help with estate planning, special needs planning or elder law throughout Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore County; and Baltimore City, contact McDonald Law Firm, LLC.

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