A valid will ensures that your property passes according to your wishes after your death. In Maryland, if you fail to make a will or the document does not meet the state's legal requirements, your estate will be distributed according to the state's inheritance sharing rules. In such cases, the law places surviving spouses and children first in line to receive the estate, followed by parents, siblings, grandparents and stepchildren. If no heirs can be found, the estate becomes the property of the state.
Subject to certain conditions for married couples, property will pass in any way specified by a valid will. To be considered valid in Maryland, the document must meet certain state requirements. First, a will may be made only by someone who is at least 18 years old, mentally competent and not under the pressure of another person. The document must then be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses. If there is no will, or a court declares it invalid, the estate will be distributed according to an inflexible set of state rules that may be contrary to the wishes of the deceased.
A surviving spouse may not be disinherited in Maryland, and is entitled to a portion of the net estate. The net estate is the remaining assets of a deceased person after subtracting debts, funeral costs and administration expenses. The surviving spouse is entitled to receive at least half of the net estate if you have no surviving children, or one-third of the net estate if you have children. This is true even if the will specifies a smaller inheritance. If there is no will, the surviving spouse will automatically receive a one-time allowance of $5,000 in addition to half of the net estate if there are minor children. If the children are over 18, or there are no children but surviving parents, the spouse is entitled to a one-half share plus an additional $15,000. If there are no children or parents, the surviving spouse will receive the entire estate.
Read More: Legal Rights of a Surviving Spouse
If there is no valid will, the percentage of the estate that each child will receive depends on their age and marital status. As a preliminary matter, each unmarried child under 18 receives an immediate family allowance of $2,500. All minor children are then entitled to share equally in half of the net estate if there is a surviving spouse. If all children are over 18, they will share equally in the remaining one-half of the estate after the surviving spouse has been paid the additional $15,000. If the deceased person was not married at the time of death, the children share equally in the entire estate.
Parents will share in the estate only if there are no surviving children. If a deceased person is unmarried at the time of death and has no children, the parents will be entitled to the entire net estate. If there is a surviving spouse, parents will share equally in half of the net estate after the initial allowance and additional $15,000 have been paid to the spouse.
If a deceased person leaves no surviving spouse, children or parents, the estate will be distributed equally to any surviving siblings or their descendants. If there are no siblings, the estate is distributed to any surviving grandparents or great-grandparents. If there are no surviving blood relatives, the estate will pass to surviving stepchildren. If there are no living legal or blood relatives, the estate becomes the property of the state and its assets are transferred to the county Board of Education.
Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."