Facts About Wills


What Is A Will ?

A will is a written document directing the disposition of a person's assets after death.


Requirements For A Valid Will

In Maryland, a will must be signed by the person making the will (testator/testatrix) and Attested and signed by two credible witnesses in the presence of the person making the will. (Sample attestation clause: Signed, sealed, published and declared by the abovenamed Testa (tor), (trix), (name), as and for (his/her) Last Will and Testament, in the presence of us, who at (his/her) request, in (his/her) presence, and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses."


Why Should You Make A Will ?

A will is one of the most important of all legal documents. It is the legal declaration of a person's intentions and desires that he directs to be carried out after his death. By making a will you can specify how you want your property distributed after your death; you can name a personal representative who has the responsibility to collect assets, pay bills and distribute your estate according to the terms of your will; you can make charitable bequests; and you can nominate someone in whom you have confidence to be a guardian of your minor children. Without a will, the intestate laws of the State of Maryland direct the order of priority for those individuals to serve as personal representative of the estate; what heirs are entitled to receive the assets of the estate; and in some instances the Orphans' Court shall make the appointment of a guardian for your minor children.


Safekeeping Of Your Will

Your will may be filed with the Register of Wills for safekeeping for a one-time fee of $5.00. An original will brought to the Register of Wills' office for safekeeping should be sealed in an envelope, with your name, address and the last four digits of your social security number clearly legible on the cover. During your lifetime, the will you deposited in the Register of Wills' office can only be released to you or a person authorized by you in writing to receive the same. You should always make sure that the person you named as Personal Representative is made aware of the location of your will.


Can A Will Be Changed ?

A will can be changed at any time before death if a person is competent. The changes should not be made by alteration to the existing will but by a document called a "codicil". The codicil must be executed with the same formalities as a will.


When Should A Will Be Changed ?

A will should be reviewed whenever a significant change in personal or financial circumstances occurs. For example, a change in marital status warrants a review of the will.


The Validity Of A Will Executed In Another State

If you have a will prepared outside of Maryland and then move into Maryland, it is valid if it is executed in accordance with the laws of the state in which it was prepared. However, if you move to another state, check with the Probate Division of your new jurisdiction to determine if your will is valid. Laws vary in different states.


Wills Are Only Effective When Administering Probate Assets

A will must be admitted to probate when a person dies owning property in his or her name alone or as tenants in common. Tenancy in common property is subject to the will of each of the owners to the extent of that owner's interest and does not pass automatically to the survivor.
Property owned by husband and wife, either jointly or as tenancy by the entirety, or property held by any other persons as joint tenants "with right of survivorship" is not subject to the provisions of the will of the first joint owner to die. Such joint property passes automatically to the surviving joint owner or owners.


What If There Is No Will ?

If there is no will, the intestate laws of the State of Maryland, which are subject to change from time to time, will determine the distribution of probate assets. Distribution is determined by the relationship of the surviving heirs of the decedent. If a spouse and minor child/children survive, the spouse receives only one-half of the probate assets and the child/children receive the other one-half.
If there are no surviving minor children but other surviving children or parents, the spouse receives the first $15,000.00 plus one-half of the balance of the estate; the remainder passes to the decedent's children, if any, otherwise to his or her parents. If a spouse but no children or parents survive, the spouse receives the entire probate estate.
If children but no spouse survive, the children will receive everything , If no relatives (brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.) survive, the assets will be distributed to the Board of Education in the jurisdiction where the estate was administered.