In Maryland, the Orphans’ Court is the probate court that is responsible for overseeing estate administration for people who have passed away, either with or without a will, while owning property in their name only. This property may include a car, jewelry, cash, bank accounts, real estate or other assets.
The estate is usually opened in the county or city where the deceased person had his or her primary residence. The personal representative of the estate is responsible for identifying the assets in the deceased person’s name, filing necessary forms which may include tax returns and distributing assets to beneficiaries.
In estate administrations where there are no disputes, the Orphans’ Court judge may not have direct contact with the estate’s personal representative or the beneficiaries other than to sign various documents.
When a dispute arises, however, these judges may hold formal hearings to address concerns such as the amounts that should be distributed to the beneficiaries, who to appoint as the estate’s personal representative, claims to be paid from the estate and payments that should be made to the estate’s personal representative.
Also, sometimes disputes arise regarding the will’s validity. These may include challenges to the will for fraud, undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity. They will consider the evidence submitted and the law to resolve the dispute.
If the deceased person’s property passes to a person under the age of 18, the Orphans’ Court may appoint a person to serve as a guardian for the property. In other circumstances, the court may also appoint a guardian of the person for the minor who is responsible for caring for the minor and making decisions about the minor’s health care and education.
An experienced attorney can assist individuals with their estate planning needs and answer questions about the process.