The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Maryland offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, your loved ones can use a procedure called a "small estate proceeding" to transfer your property more quickly and with less hassle.
You can use a small estate proceeding in Maryland if the fair market value of the probate estate (see below) does not exceed:
(Md. Code Ann. § 5-601.) The "probate estate" is all of the property the deceased person left behind that is subject to probate. Certain types of property don't count, such as:
So even relatively large estates might still qualify as a "small estate" for purposes of this proceeding.
Below is an overview of Maryland's small estate proceeding.
To open the small estate proceeding, you'll need to file a Petition for Administration of Small Estate. This petition must include:
(Md. Code Ann. § 5-602.) You'll also need to attach a certified copy of the death certificate, the will (if there was one), a list of assets and debts, and a list of "interested persons" (those who inherit under the will, if there is one, as well as those who would inherit under Maryland's intestacy laws if there were no will).
Once the court authorizes you to act as the personal representative of the estate, it may authorize the payment of certain amounts, such as funeral expenses and family allowances (amounts that are set aside for a surviving spouse and minor children under Maryland law). If there's anything left in the estate, you'll likely need to give notice of the small estate proceeding to potential creditors. After they receive notice, creditors will have one month to file a claim. (Md. Code Ann. § 5-603.) This time period is shorter than regular probate.
In some circumstances, you'll also need to post a bond of $10,000 while the proceeding is ongoing. This bond is essentially a type of insurance to protect the assets of the estate. (Md. Code Ann. § 5-604.)
Once you get the go-ahead from the court, you'll use the estate assets to pay any estate debts. After debts are paid, you'll distribute the remaining property to the inheritors.
While the small estate proceeding might seem a little complicated, rest assured that the procedure is much more streamlined than full probate. If your estate qualifies as a small estate, it won't have to jump through many of the hoops of full probate, and your loved ones will get the property sooner.
For more help handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo). For an introduction to how you can plan your estate to help your survivors, try Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
For more on Maryland estate planning issues, see our section on Maryland Estate Planning.