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If a person dies without a Will, the person is deemed to have died “intestate” and the disposition of the person’s assets is governed by the laws of Intestacy. The intestacy laws are found in the Maryland Annotated Code and specify the hierarchy for determining who is entitled to distribution.
For example, if the decedent had a spouse and minor children at the time of death, then according to the laws of intestacy, the spouse would be entitled to ½ of the probate estate and the minor children would be entitled to divide the remaining ½ of the estate.
If, however, the decedent had a spouse and adult children at the time of death, then the spouse would get the first $15,000 of the estate and 1/2 of the remaining balance. In this case, the adult children would be entitled to the other half.
If, there is no surviving spouse, then the estate is distributed to the decedent’s children, or grandchildren and so forth.
This type of structure continues until one or more living blood relatives are identified. If there are no living blood relatives within the 5th degree, then the estate assets are converted to cash and paid the local Board of Education to be used for the public schools.
Probate is the legal process for winding up the affairs of a deceased person. In Maryland, the probate process is administered through the local Register of Wills office and Orphan’s Court. If the decedent died with a Will, the Will is admitted to probate and any legal challenges to the will are resolved. If the individual died without a Will, then the person has died “Intestate” and the laws of intestacy control the distribution of assets.
The first step in the probate process is to open a Probate Estate and have a person be appointed as Personal Representative or PR of the Estate. The Estate is a separate and distinct legal entity and the PR is the person vested with the authority to act on behalf of the Estate.
Through the Probate process, the decedent’s assets are identified and valued and the validity of any debts or claims is determined. At the end of the Probate process, the debts or claims are paid from the probate estate and the remaining balance is distributed to the decedent’s legatees or heirs in accordance with the terms of the Will or the laws of Intestacy if there was no Will.
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