If you don't have a will, you are not alone. It is estimated that as many as 60 percent of Americans don't have one. Some of these people have just been putting off a difficult task, but many of them don't believe they need a will. After all, if you're not rich, what do you have to put in a will? We understand why people think this way, but the fact is that everyone should have at least a basic will to make their wishes known and to protect their family members from the mess that dying without a will creates. Here's what happens if you die in Maryland without a will.

The State Will Decide Who Gets What

Last Will and Testament Paperwork and PenThe Covid-19 pandemic has opened a lot of eyes to the importance of estate planning. If you lost a loved one during the pandemic, and they did not have a will, you know first-hand how difficult the process is. Even if you did not suffer a tragic loss, your own illness might have made you aware that you need to put a plan in place. Either way, you should know that if you die without a will—known as dying "intestate"—the state of Maryland will decide what happens to your property and assets.

Who Inherits Under Maryland Intestacy Laws?

Regardless of what you might have told family members about what you want to happen when you die, unless it's documented in a valid will, your assets will be distributed according to Maryland's laws of intestacy. If your property and assets are held jointly with a spouse, and your spouse survives, he or she will retain ownership of all assets. However, for any assets that are only in your name, the court will decide who gets what. The court will appoint an estate representative who will sell off all of your property and pay any debts you left behind. After debts are paid off, assets will go to surviving family members as follows:

  • Surviving spouse. If you leave behind a spouse and no children or parents, the spouse will inherit your entire estate.
  • Minor children. If you have children under the age of 18 at the time of your death, your spouse will inherit half of the estate, and the other half will be held in trust for the children. If you have minor children and no spouse, the children will inherit equal shares of the entire estate, held in trust and managed by a court-appointed guardian.
  • Adult children. If you have a spouse and adult children, the spouse will inherit half of the estate plus $15,000, and the children will split whatever remains. If you are only survived by adult children, they will split your estate equally.
  • Parents. If you die with no surviving spouse or children, but you have surviving parents, they will inherit the estate.
  • Other relatives. If you die with no spouse, children, or parents, the court will work its way through your family tree, starting with siblings, then aunts and uncles, then first cousins, and so on. If there are no known blood relatives but there are stepchildren, the property could go to them.
  • Local Board of Education. If you die with no family at all, the estate may be distributed to the school district in the city or county in which you last resided.

This is a simplified explanation of Maryland's intestacy law. Depending on your situation now and what it would likely be upon your death, you can get a better idea from an estate planning attorney of where your assets would go if you don't have a will.

What a Will From Scudder Legal Allows You to Do

Why live with the uncertainty created by not having a will? Executing a will and signing other important documents to protect your healthcare and financial decisions is simple and affordable. With a will, you can designate who you want to inherit your possessions, and that list can include people who are not next of kin and any charity you choose. You can also preserve treasured possessions to be passed on instead of having them liquidated by the state. Finally, you can appoint trusted guardians for your minor children or grandchildren to prevent the state from making the choice for you.

Scudder Legal understands how important it is for every person—regardless of heirs or assets—to have a will and powers of attorney, and we are committed to giving families peace of mind while making the process as painless as possible. Fill out our online contact form or call us at 240-273-3294 to request a consultation with estate planning attorney Tracie Scudder.