Writing a will is your final word on all that’s important to you: where you want your property to go after your death, whom you would like to raise your minor children, and whom you want to nominate to settle your estate to make sure all this is accomplished properly and according to your wishes. In Maryland, you'll have to follow some rules when creating a will, however.
How to Write a Will in Maryland
Maryland will requirements state that you must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind to make a will. This is technically defined as understanding what you own, to whom you’re giving it, and why.
You can list the property you want to bequeath item by item, naming each individual who is to receive it, or you can leave your estate to a group to be divided up in certain percentages. Don’t neglect to name a personal representative, the individual you’d like to guide your estate through the probate process, making your bequests and paying your final debts.
Read More: How to Create a Will in Maryland
How to Sign Your Will
You’ll need two witnesses to watch you sign your will. The witnesses must also sign it, and they must do so in your presence. They must understand that what you’re signing is your will, but they don’t have to know what it says. Include the date on which the will is signed. You might want to consider initialing each page, too, as an indication that they were included in the will when it was witnessed and signed. An extra page with additional provisions added without these initials could later wave a red flag when your will is presented to the court. This is just a safeguard, however, not a requirement.
Considerations Regarding Your Children
Your will isn’t just about your property. You can also use it to nominate someone to care for your children if you should die while they’re still minors – under the age of 18 in Maryland.
Naming a guardian for your children doesn’t guarantee that the court will ultimately appoint that person, but a judge will probably honor your wishes as long as there’s no compelling reason not to. You’re effectively telling the judge in advance the person you want to assume this important role. In fact, you might want to name an alternate guardian in case the first person you nominate can’t or won’t serve.
If your child’s other parent is living, the court will most likely consider this to be a compelling reason not to award guardianship to someone else, even if you name someone else in your will. Parents usually have first right to custody and guardianship provided they’re fit.
Make Sure Your Will Can Be Found
Your will won’t do anyone any good if no one can lay their hands on it at the time of your death. Maryland makes it easy for them to do so. The state maintains a Register of Wills that keeps your will on file for you. Be sure to tell your personal representative that you’ve done this so she knows where to find the will when necessary. Otherwise, place the will in a fireproof box or safe – and again, tell your personal representative that it’s there. Don’t put it in your safe deposit box because the bank might not give your personal representative access to the box to retrieve it.
What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
Is going to all this trouble worth it? Maybe not if you’re married and have no children and you want everything you own to transfer to your spouse when you die. That’s what would happen if you die in Maryland without a will.
If you have children but no spouse, your children would inherit everything according to Maryland law. If you have both a spouse and children, your spouse would get half your estate and your children would share in the other half, assuming they’re minors. Otherwise, if they’re adults, your spouse would receive $40,000, plus half the balance of your estate; your adult children would share in the other half.
This process, known as intestate succession, will go on and on to more distant relatives, but the list does not include anyone who isn't related to you. So, if you want to leave your wine collection to your best friend, you’ll need a will to do that.
- Consider consulting a lawyer for legal specifics. Wills are not required to be reviewed by lawyers in Maryland, but the Maryland Register of Wills recommends seeking legal consultation.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.