Wills are the most basic and universally applicable estate planning documents. Individuals who are 18 or older can draft these legally-binding documents to address what should happen to their property after they die.
The average adult will typically leave their property to their closest loved ones, although some people choose to leave their resources to charitable organizations. Wills and other estate planning documents can also appoint guardians for minor children and arrange for someone’s protection if they experience incapacitation.
Despite how useful estate plans can be, many people procrastinate about estate planning. Some of those people die without having any documents on record. What happens if someone doesn’t draft a will before dying as a Maryland resident?
Maryland law dictates how such an estate should be managed
Someone who dies without leaving behind estate planning instructions has died intestate. There are clear instructions to guide the probate courts and the personal representative of their estate in the distribution of their assets.
An individual’s spouse typically has the strongest right of inheritance, although they will often share the estate with the children of the deceased individual. How much of the estate spouses and children receive will depend on whether the spouse is also the legal or biological parent of the children who inherit. If someone has only a surviving spouse, they inherit everything. The same is true of children when someone isn’t married.
When people die without having spouses or children, then other family members May inherit from their estates. Parents can inherit from someone’s estate, as can siblings if there are no surviving parents. Maryland state law used to specifically prioritize the oldest brother of the decedent, but that has since changed. All siblings generally have the same degree of priority during intestate succession.
If someone dies without any close family members, the state may transfer their property to more distant relatives. Although it is quite rare, if someone has no relatives, their property may eventually become the property of the state itself.
Estate planning can be particularly important if someone wants to provide resources for friends, romantic partners or charitable causes. Understanding the basics of Maryland probate law can sometimes help people see the value in estate planning.