Intestate Succession in Maryland

What happens if you die without a will? Learn about intestacy in Maryland.

Updated by , Attorney (George Mason University Law School)

If you die without a will in Maryland, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Maryland.

Which Assets Pass by Intestate Succession

Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate, and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:

  • property you've transferred to a living trust
  • life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary
  • funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account with a named beneficiary
  • securities held in a transfer-on-death account
  • real estate for which you have a transfer on death deed
  • vehicles for which you have a transfer on death registration
  • payable-on-death bank accounts, or
  • property you own with someone else in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.

These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.

To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of Nolo.com or read about Avoiding Probate in Maryland.

Who Gets What in Maryland?

Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:

If you die with:

here's what happens:

children but no spouse children inherit everything
spouse but no descendants spouse inherits everything
spouse and children who are minors spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property

children inherit everything else
spouse and descendants who aren't descendants of your spouse, but no children who are minors spouse inherits the first $100,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance

descendants inherit everything else
parents but no spouse or descendants parents inherit everything
siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents siblings inherit everything

(Md. Code Est. and Trusts §§ 3-102; 3-103; 3-104 (2023).)

The Spouse's Share in Maryland

In Maryland, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living descendants—children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property as follows:

If you die with children who are minors. Your spouse inherits 1/2 of your intestate property. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-102 (2023).)

Example: Barrett is married to Jed and also has a 12-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Barrett owns a house in joint tenancy with Jed, plus $200,000 worth of additional, separate property that would have passed under a will if Barrett had made one. When Barrett dies, Jed inherits the house outright and $100,000 worth of Barrett's property. Barrett's daughter inherits the remaining $100,000 share of Barrett's property.

If you die with descendants who aren't descendants of your spouse but no children who are minors. Your surviving spouse inherits the first $100,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-102 (2023).)

Example: Bill is married to Karen, and Bill has two grown children from a previous marriage. Bill and Karen own a large bank account in joint tenancy, and Bill took out a life insurance policy naming Karen as the beneficiary. When Bill dies, Karen receives the life insurance policy proceeds and inherits the bank account outright. Bill also owns $400,000 worth of other property that would have passed under a will, so Karen inherits $250,000 worth of that property—that is, $100,000 plus 1/2 of the $300,000 balance. The two children split the remaining $150,000 worth of property.

Children's Shares in Maryland

If you die without a will in Maryland, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have, whether or not you are married and whether your children are minors. (See the table above.)

For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Maryland must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Adopted children. Children you legally adopted will receive an intestate share, just as your biological children do. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 1-205 (2023).)
  • Foster children and stepchildren. Foster children and stepchildren you never legally adopted will not automatically receive a share. However, if you leave no blood relatives, the next group in line to inherit from you is your stepchildren. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-104 (2023).)
  • Children placed for adoption. Children you placed for adoption and who were legally adopted by another family will not receive a share. However, if your biological children were adopted by your spouse, that won't affect their intestate inheritance. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 1-207 (2023).)
  • Posthumous children. Children conceived by you but not born before your death will usually receive a share. There is an exception for children conceived by artificial insemination, who will receive a share only if (1) you consented in writing to the use of your genetic material for posthumous conception, (2) you consented in writing to be the parent, and (3) the child is born within two years after your death. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-107 (2023).)
  • Children born outside of marriage. If you were not married to your child's mother when she gave birth, the child will receive a share of your estate if (1) a court determines you are the child's parent, (2) you and the mother agreed to conception of the child through assisted reproduction with the intent to be the child's parents, or (3) the mother recognizes you as the other biological parent and you agree. Additionally, there is a rebuttable presumption that you are the child's parent if you (1) have acknowledged yourself in writing to be the child's parent, (2) have openly and notoriously recognized the child to be yours, or (3) married the mother after the child's birth and acknowledged that you are the child's parent. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 1-208 (2023).)
  • Grandchildren. A grandchild will receive a share only if that grandchild's parent (your son or daughter) is not alive to receive a share. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-103 (2023).)

If you want to read the law, you can search the code from the website of the Maryland General Assembly.

This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney.

Will the State Get Your Property?

If you die without a will and don't have any family, your property will "escheat" into the state's coffers. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, or the descendants of a spouse who dies before you do. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-104 (2023).)

If you do die without a will and without any heirs, your estate will be paid to either the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or the county board of education. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-105 (2023).)

Other Maryland Intestate Succession Rules

Here are a few other things to know about Maryland intestacy laws.

  • Survivorship period. To inherit under Maryland's intestate succession statutes, a person must outlive you by 30 days. So. if you and your brother are in a car accident and he dies a few hours after you do, his estate would not receive any of your property. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-110 (2023).)
  • Half-relatives. "Half" relatives inherit as if they were "whole." That is, your sister with whom you share a father, but not a mother, has the same right to your property as she would if you had both parents in common. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 1-204 (2023).)
  • Advancement. If you gave a relative property during your lifetime, the value of this gift is subtracted from your relative's share if you wrote this down at the time of the gift or your relative wrote it down at any time. An advancement to another relative can't increase the share to the surviving spouse. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-106 (2023).)
  • Immigration status. Relatives entitled to an intestate share of your property will inherit whether or not they are citizens or legally in the United States.
  • No inheritance if certain crimes committed. A parent of a child isn't entitled to a share if the parent is convicted of certain violent crimes, including abuse of the child. (Md. Code Est. and Trusts § 3-111 (2023).)

Learn More

To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.

You can find Maryland's intestate succession laws in the Estates & Trusts chapter of the Maryland Code § § 3-101 to 3-112. If you want to read the law, you can search the Maryland Code from the website of the Maryland General Assembly.

For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.

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