At some point in you life you may be required to oversee the probate of the estate of a recently deceased love one. Attempting to navigate the often complex probate process while grieving the loss of someone dear to you can seem overwhelming. Whether you are the Personal Representative of the estate, the Trustee of a trust, or a beneficiary, having an experienced probate and trust administration attorney by your side throughout the process will be invaluable. At The Law Offices of Kirk Halpin & Associates, P.A. we understand how difficult it may be for you to focus on the legal and practical issues that follow the death of a loved one. Our trust administration and probate attorneys are committed to helping you fulfill your role as Personal Representative, Trustee, or beneficiary.
The Maryland Probate Process
Probate is the legal process that is required to settle the estate of someone who has recently passed away. The probate process is unique for each estate; however, there are some common objectives, such as:
- Identifying, locating, securing, and valuing the assets of the decedent.
- Initiating the probate process by submitting the decedent’s Last Will and Testament (if applicable) along with a petition to open probate to the appropriate court.
- Identifying and locating the legal heirs if the decedent died intestate (without a Will).
- Notifying creditors of the estate that probate is underway and allowing time for those creditors to file claims against the estate.
- Reviewing claims filed by creditors and approving or denying each claim.
- Paying approved claims with available estate assets.
- Arranging for the liquidation of estate assets if necessary to pay debts of the estate.
- Defending the estate in the event of disputes.
- Calculating and paying any gift and estate taxes due.
- Effectuating the legal transfer of remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate.
If the decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament, the person named as the Executor (also known as personal representative) in the Will generally oversees the probate of the estate. If no Will was left behind by the decedent, the court must appoint someone to serve as the Personal Representative to oversee the administration of the estate.
Accepting the death of a family member or loved one is never easy; however, it is made even more difficult if you question the validity of the Last Will and Testament submitted for probate. As an heir or beneficiary of the Will you have the legal standing necessary to contest the validity of the Will. You must also allege, and ultimately prove if you are to be successful, one of the recognized grounds on which a Will may be declared invalid in Maryland. The decision to contest a Will can be heart-wrenching, as can the litigation that follows. Working with an experienced probate attorney will greatly increase the odds of successfully invalidating the Will.
Trust Administration Basics
Assets held in a trust bypass probate and are distributed according to the terms of the trust without any judicial oversight. Instead, the Trustee is responsible for distributing the trust assets using the guidelines found in the trust agreement. Before that can happen though, assets may need to be marshalled and transferred into the Trustee’s name.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Trustee
If you have never before served as a Trustee, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the duties and responsibilities involved in trust administration, such as:
- Managing and protecting trust assets
- Investing trust funds using the “Prudent Investor Standard”
- Communicating with trust beneficiaries
- Resolving conflicts among beneficiaries
- Making discretionary decisions
- Distributing trust funds to beneficiaries
- Keeping detailed trust records
- Preparing and paying trust taxes
When a trust is used as the primary vehicle for distributing estate assets following the death of the Settlor (the creator of the trust), it often means that the Trustee is simultaneously grieving the loss of a loved one and attempting to navigate the often complex role of Trustee for the first time. Having an experienced and skilled trust administration attorney to assist you in the performance of your duties and responsibilities as Trustee is the best way to ensure that the Settlor’s wishes are honored while avoiding costly errors.
The probate and trust administration attorneys at The Law Offices of Kirk Halpin & Associates, P.A., are committed to helping you fulfill your role as Executor, Personal Representative, or Trustee. We can also help you to aggressively challenge a Will if you are a beneficiary and you question the validity of that Will. Contact the team today by calling 410-531-1700 or fill out our online contact form so we can help you get started today.