If you want to know the importance of having a will, it helps to know what happens if you die without one. Maryland has a default set of rules (called intestacy statutes) that apply to individuals who die without a will (called dying intestate) in Maryland. Different states have different default rules.
Who will inherit the property of the decedent (the person who died) without a will depends on which family members are still around. The estate is distributed to the following family members if they are living when the decedent passes:
- Spouse and at least one minor child: Spouse receives half of net estate and children divide remaining half equally.
- Spouse and all adult children: Spouse receives first $15,000 plus half of remaining estate. Children divide remaining half equally. Grandchildren inherit their parent’s share if they are not alive.
- Spouse and parents (no surviving children or grandchildren): Spouse receives first $15,000 plus half of remaining estate. Parents divide remaining half equally.
- Spouse only: Spouse inherits everything.
- Children only: Children inherit everything equally. Grandchildren inherit their parent’s share if they are not alive.
- Parents only: Parents inherit everything equally.
- Siblings only: Siblings inherit everything equally. Nieces and nephews inherit their parent’s share if they are not alive.
- Other blood relatives: If none of the above are available, other blood relatives will inherit. This can be relatives as distant as anyone who shares a common great-grandparent: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, great aunts and uncles, second cousins, second cousins once removed and so on.
- Stepchildren only: If no blood relatives are alive, surviving stepchildren inherit everything equally.
- None of the above: If there are no living relatives as described above, the Maryland government will take everything. It goes to the the Board of Education in the county where the estate was opened or to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene if the decedent received long-term care benefits under Maryland Medicaid
Whew. Did you get all of that? Keep in mind that this only how Maryland does it and the Maryland legislature could change it at any time.
The Maryland legislature tries to think of the best people to inherit if there is no will, but it is unlikely that the default scheme is what you would want. Most married couples want each other to inherit everything if all of the surviving children are a product of the marriage, not only a portion. Stepchildren only inherit as a last resort in Maryland, behind relatives you’ve probably never met.
More importantly than where your stuff goes, if you die without a will you don’t get to nominate a personal guardian for your minor children. If both parents have passed, the court will make this determination based on the best interests of the child. The court will do so without your input and may not select the person you would have.
Without a will, you also won’t get to select a personal representative who will be in charge of your estate and managing your property after you die. The court will pick this person looking first to spouses and relatives but it might decide on a stranger like a creditor. Without a will, the personal representative will have to post a bond, even if it’s your spouse or relative you trust.
Just because you haven’t done any estate planning doesn’t mean that there isn’t a plan: you just won’t have any say in what it is. For the vast majority of adults, the plan that is best for them is the one they decide on, not the Maryland government. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure that you avoid the dangers of not having a will.
Montefusco Estate Planning, LLC is an estate planning law firm in Frederick, MD. If you are interested in our services, contact us today. This information is written for the context of Maryland estate planning but is not legal advice for anyone. For more information, read our disclaimer.