Maryland Reforms Intestacy Laws – What Does This Mean for You?
Recently, lawmakers in Maryland reformed the intestate succession laws to give more preference to spouses and create inheritance rights for registered domestic partners. Additional reforms adjust inheritance preferences in other ways.
What does this mean for you and your family? As with most legal changes, the answer depends on your circumstances.
Intestacy Laws Determine Who Inherits Property When There’s No Will
The laws of intestate succession in Maryland determine who will receive a deceased person’s property when they haven’t created a will or the will they left is determined to be invalid by the court. Dying without a will leaves you “intestate.”
If you and your loved ones worked with an estate planning attorney to create a will or other estate planning documents and the documents have been reviewed in recent years to determine that they are still valid, then the changes in intestacy laws should not affect your family at all.
In situations where someone created a revocable living trust to avoid probate and some of their property did not get transferred into the trust, that property could pass according to intestate succession laws unless there is a pour-over will to funnel that property into the trust or a traditional will covering remaining property.
Surviving Spouses Given Greater Preference Under New Laws
Many married people in Maryland assume that if they die without a will, their spouse automatically inherits everything. Under the old intestacy laws, this was not always the case. Instead, the deceased partner’s property might be split between the spouse and adult children or other relatives.
For instance, when the deceased left a spouse and adult children, the spouse would receive the first $40,000 of the estate, and then the remainder of the estate would be split between the spouse and the adult children. Or if a deceased person didn’t have children and had been married for less than five years, their estate would be split between their spouse and their parents.
The reformed laws that took effect October 1, 2023 change those situations. In situations where the deceased person left no children or the adult children are offspring of the deceased person and the spouse, then the spouse inherits everything. In a stepparent situation where the adult children are not the child of the surviving spouse, the spouse would receive the first $100,000 of the estate and then split the remainder with the children of the deceased person. If the deceased person leaves behind minor children, those children receive half the estate under both the old and new laws. Legal provision would need to be made for a trustee or guardian to manage that property on behalf of the minors.
No Distinction for “Legitimate” Children
Other important reforms to intestacy laws amend language to simplify terms and remove the stigma and disparate treatment afforded to children born out of wedlock and formerly classified as “illegitmate.” The terms legitimate and illegitmate have been deleted and the definition of children has been simplified.
Additionally, grandparents are no longer distinguished based on maternal or paternal connections. Finally, in situations where great grandparents and their descendants were set to inherit under the old laws, now the property would go to stepchildren.
Domestic Partners Gain Inheritance Rights if They are Registered
A new provision in Maryland intestacy laws allows a non-married partner to inherit if that partner is a registered domestic partner. Registration and compliance with requirements give a domestic partner many but not all of the same inheritance rights as a spouse. This includes preference as a Personal Representative of the estate.
Partners who want to register their partnership and secure inheritance rights need to file a Declaration with the Register of Wills. Once registered, the partnership will remain in effect until one or both partners take affirmative legal action to dissolve it.
Intestacy Reform is Not Enough to Protect Your Loved Ones
The reforms in intestacy laws offer additional protections for some family members at the expense of others. The only way to be certain that your loved ones receive the support you want is to create your own estate planning documents. When you work with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can specify who you want to manage your affairs, determine who should receive your property, and name individuals you trust to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
You will be in charge rather than the government. This provides peace of mind for your family and assures them of your love and regard.
Jimeno & Gray, P.A. Can Protect Your Family’s Inheritance
Planning can make all the difference between leaving a secure future for your family and leaving a confusing financial mess subject to unnecessary tax liability. At Jimeno & Gray, P.A., we understand all the laws and circumstances that can impact your future, and we work to develop plans to conserve your resources so that you can provide for your loved ones in the short and long term.
To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss how we can protect your family, contact our team today.
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