What is Probate?
Probate is the process through which assets which belong to a deceased person are transferred to the beneficiaries of the estate, either pursuant to a will or pursuant to the law of intestate succession. (The law of intestate succession determines to whom your estate passes if you die without a will. Typically, if you do not have a will your estate will pass to immediate family members.). The word “probate” comes from a Latin word meaning to “prove”. In the old days, it was necessary to prove to the court that the will was valid, and witnesses would have to come to court to give testimony about the will. In modern times, the process is quasi-administrative, that is, typically the court is just approving routine actions.
In the District of Columbia, the court appoints a personal representative (what used to be called the “executor”) and then requires the personal representative to prove that he or she published notice of their appointment, and notified those named in the will and immediate family members of his or her appointment via certified mail. The rest of the probate process is typically completed without further court inolvement.
In Maryland, “Modified Administration” is available if all the beneficiaries consent and there are no inheritance taxes due. Under modified administration, the personal representative only has to file what is supposed to be an informal report with the Register of Wills’ Office at the end of the estate administration. Otherwise, inventories and accountings still have to be filed with the court.