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Frequently Asked Questions

The following are basic questions and answers. Please see our Publications Section for more detailed information.


1. General Information

2. Wills

3. Decedent's Estates

4. Personal Representatives




1. General Information

1.1.  What does the Register of Wills do ?

1.2.  What resources do you have available to assist the public ?

1.3.  A relative of mine died recently. Can you let me know when the estate is opened ?

1.4.  Are your records available to the general public ?

1.5.  What is the format of your records ?

1.6.  Are your records available via the Internet ?

1.7.  How can I get copies of a Will or other documents filed in an estate ?

1.8.  Can you help transfer a deed for real estate I inherited ?

1.9.  Can I get a copy of a death certificate from your office ?

1.10.  How can I get a 'Power of Attorney' ?

1.11.  Is a 'Living Trust' right for me ?




2. Wills

2.1.  Do I need a Will ?

2.2.  How do I make a 'Living Will' ?

2.3.  Are Wills public records ?

2.4.  Does the Register of Wills prepare Wills for individuals ?

2.5.  Where should I keep my Will ?

2.6.  Can I file my Will at the Register of Wills Office ?

2.7.  Who can withdraw a living person's Will if it is filed at the Register of Wills Office ?

2.8.  What constitutes a valid Will in the State of Maryland ?

2.9.  Is a holographic (handwritten) Will legal in Maryland ?

2.10.  What is the procedure to probate an estate with a Will ?

2.11.  How is property distributed if there is no Will ?




3. Decedent's Estates

3.1.  If the decedent didn't have any assets does the Will still have to be filed ?

3.2.  When does an estate have to be opened ?

3.3.  How do I get a 'Letter of Administration' ?

3.4.  Who is allowed to obtain Letters of Administration ?

3.5.  Which type of estate should I file - Regular or Small ?

3.6.  Where do I file an estate ?

3.7.  What do I need to file to open an estate ?

3.8.  Is probate necessary in a small estate ?

3.9.  What if the only property was jointly owned ?

3.10.  What if the only asset is real estate ?

3.11.  What if the only asset was a motor vehicle ?

3.12.  How do I change title to a motor vehicle I inherited ?

3.13.  What are the fees and taxes associated with an estate ?

3.14.  Must I file a Maryland Estate Tax return and pay Maryland Estate Tax ?

3.15.  Who does one contact about estate taxes ?

3.16.  Who distributes the estate's assets ?

3.17.  A deceased person owes me money. How do I file a claim against the estate ?

3.18.  A deceased relative has 'Unclaimed Property'. How do I claim it ?




4. Personal Representatives

4.1.  What are the duties of a personal representative ?

4.2.  What should the prospective personal representative bring to qualify ?

4.3.  Does the personal representative have to post a surety bond ?

4.4.  Does the personal representative have to be a Maryland resident ?

4.5.  What if the personal representative moves to another state after the estate is opened ?

4.6.  What if the named personal representative is deceased or does not wish to serve ?

4.7.  What if the named personal representative wishes to be removed after being appointed ?





1.1.  What does the Register of Wills do ?

The purpose of the Register of Wills and the Orphans’ Court is to offer protection.
The office protects:
1) The decedent – that his or her last wishes will be carried out.
2) The heirs, legatees, and creditors – that they will receive what they are entitled to.
3) The State of Maryland – that the proper taxes and fees will be collected.

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1.2.  What resources do you have available to assist the public ?

The Publications Section of this website has links to booklets, pamphets, sample guides and informative web sites.
Our FAQ has answers to the most frequently asked questions.
We also provide all the necessary forms on-line in pdf format. Click Here For Forms

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1.3.  A relative of mine died recently. Can you let me know when the estate is opened ?

We do not have the capability to monitor when Wills/estates are filed. You may periodically check our Estate Search to determine if an estate has been opened.

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1.4.  Are your records available to the general public ?

Wills and probate records of deceased individuals are public records and may be reviewed in the office in which they were filed.

Wills of living persons, which are held for safekeeping by the Register of Wills, are not public records. In the State of Maryland you may not review the Will of a living person if it is in the custody of the Register of Wills.

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1.5.  What is the format of your records ?

It varies. In some Register of Wills Offices, newer records are stored in digital format and can be viewed on computer terminals while older records are available on either paper (files), microfilm, microfiche or docket books depending on the age and type of record.

Many offices have digitized all of their records.

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1.6.  Are your records available via the Internet ?

Basic estate information and the estate docket (list of documents filed) is available for viewing on the Internet using our Estate Search feature.

Some jurisdictions will have all of their records available while others will only have records available from 1997 to the present.

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1.7.  How can I get copies of a Will or other documents filed in an estate ?

To order a copy of a Will or other estate document, you can visit the office or speak to someone in the Records Division of the Register's Office where the estate was filed. You can also use the Document Request Form available via our Estate Search feature.
There is a fee for all copies based on the number of pages and the type of copy required.

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1.8.  Can you help transfer a deed for real estate I inherited ?

No. The Register of Wills does not prepare or record deeds. You should contact your attorney or the Land Records Division of the Circuit Court in the jurisdiction where the real estate is located.

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1.9.  Can I get a copy of a death certificate from your office ?

No. The Register of Wills does not issue Death Certificates or Birth Certificates. To obtain a copy of one of these, you must contact the Vital Statistics Administration.
Their telephone number is 800-832-3277.
For more information, you may visit their website: Vital Statistics Administration .

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1.10.  How can I get a 'Power of Attorney' ?

The Register of Wills does not have jurisdiction over Powers of Attorney. We suggest you contact your attorney for assistance.
Please note that a Power of Attorney ceases upon death.

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1.11.  Is a 'Living Trust' right for me ?

Please refer to our publication "Living Trusts: Get The Facts!"

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2.1.  Do I need a Will ?

Please refer to our publication "Facts About Wills" for more information.

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2.2.  How do I make a 'Living Will' ?

The Register of Wills does not have jurisdiction over Living Wills. However, the Office of the Attorney General has made available a publication (which includes forms) titled "Maryland Advance Directive: Planning For Future Health Care Decisions".
There is a link to it in our Publications Section.

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2.3.  Are Wills public records ?

Wills of living persons, which are held for safekeeping by the Register of Wills, are not public records. In the State of Maryland you may not review the Will of a living person if it is in the custody of the Register of Wills.

Wills and probate records of deceased individuals are public records and may be reviewed in the Register's Office in which they were filed.

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2.4.  Does the Register of Wills prepare Wills for individuals ?

Unfortunately, no. We are prohibited by law from giving legal advice and, apart from providing assistance with completion of probate forms, we cannot prepare legal documents.

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2.5.  Where should I keep my Will ?

Where to keep a Will is a personal decision. We suggest that it be kept in a place where it is safe from theft and damage from fire or water. The named personal representative should be given a copy of the Will and/or instructions as to where the original Will is located.

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2.6.  Can I file my Will at the Register of Wills Office ?

Yes. Submit the Will to the Register's Office in your jurisdiction of residence. The Will must be in a sealed envelope with the following information on the outside of the envelope:

Your name;
Your address;
Your social security number;
Date of the Will;
Name of the Personal Representative.

The fee is $5.00 for each Will or Codicil filed.

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2.7.  Who can withdraw a living person's Will if it is filed at the Register of Wills Office ?

Only the testator, or someone who has explicit written instructions signed by the testator, can withdraw a Will from safekeeping. Proper identification is required.  For more information please call the Register of Wills Office in the jurisdiction holding the Will.

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2.8.  What constitutes a valid Will in the State of Maryland ?

In Maryland, a Will must be in writing, signed by the testator (or by someone else for him/her in his/her presence with his/her permission), and attested and signed by at least two credible witnesses in the presence of the testator. The testator must be at least 18 years of age and legally competent at the time of signing. For additional information, please refer to our publication "Facts About Wills".

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2.9.  Is a holographic (handwritten) Will legal in Maryland ?

Yes, if it complies with Maryland Law.

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2.10.  What is the procedure to probate an estate with a Will ?

Please refer to our publication "What To Do If You Need To Open An Estate".

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2.11.  How is property distributed if there is no Will ?

Please refer to Section 10 of our publication "Administering Estates In Maryland" for more information.
There is a link to it in our Publications Section.

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3.1.  If the decedent didn't have any assets does the Will still have to be filed ?

Under Maryland Law, the decedent's Will must be filed in the jurisdiction of domicile.

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3.2.  When does an estate have to be opened ?

An estate must be opened if the decedent died owning property of any kind in his/her name alone, or as a tenant in common.

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3.3.  How do I get a 'Letter of Administration' ?

To be issued Letters of Administration, it is necessary to open an estate.

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3.4.  Who is allowed to obtain Letters of Administration ?

The appointed personal representative and/or the attorney representing the estate.

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3.5.  Which type of estate should I file - Regular or Small ?

Please refer to our publication "What To Do If You Need To Open An Estate".

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3.6.  Where do I file an estate ?

The Register of Wills office in the jurisdiction in which the decedent was domiciled at the time of death.

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3.7.  What do I need to file to open an estate ?

Please refer to our publication "What To Do If You Need To Open An Estate".

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3.8.  Is probate necessary in a small estate ?

Yes, if the value of the assets exceed the debts.

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3.9.  What if the only property was jointly owned ?

If the decedent had property titled jointly with anyone other than the surviving spouse, there may be inheritance tax due. For more information, contact the Register's Office in the decedent's jurisdiction of residence.

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3.10.  What if the only asset is real estate ?

Under Maryland Law, there is no difference between real property and personal property.

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3.11.  What if the only asset was a motor vehicle ?

If the motor vehicle was in the decedent's name alone and the net value is under $50,000, a small estate is necessary.
If there is a surviving spouse and the net value is under $100,000 a small estate is necessary.
If the net value is over $50,000 and there is no surviving spouse, a regular estate is necessary.

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3.12.  How do I change title to a motor vehicle I inherited ?

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3.13.  What are the fees and taxes associated with an estate ?

There is a fee for the certified mailing of notices to the interested persons, as well as a probate fee to cover the processing costs. The probate fee is based on the value of the assets. Please see the Fees Page for more information

Unless exempted under Maryland statute, there is also an inheritance tax due on distribution of remaining assets.
Please refer to our publication "Administering Estates In Maryland" for more information. There is a link to it in our Publications Section.

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3.14.  Must I file a Maryland Estate Tax return and pay Maryland Estate Tax ?

This is dependent on the value of the assets. Please refer to
Maryland Estate Tax Frequently Asked Questions and
Maryland Estate Tax Tip 61 (Estates & Trusts) for more information.

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3.15.  Who does one contact about estate taxes ?

Contact the Comptroller of Maryland for Maryland Estate Taxes. Please refer to
Maryland Estate Tax Frequently Asked Questions for information and telephone numbers.
Contact your local Internal Revenue Service (IRS) office for information on Federal Estate Taxes.

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3.16.  Who distributes the estate's assets ?

The personal representative is responsible for distribution of assets after approval from the Register of Wills and the Orphans' Court.

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3.17.  A deceased person owes me money. How do I file a claim against the estate ?

Download form #1128 ('Claim Against Decedent's Estate') from our Forms Page. Complete the form and submit it along with supporting documentation. The cost to file is $3.00 per claim.
Please note that claims must be filed within 6 months from the date of death.

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3.18.  A deceased relative has 'Unclaimed Property'. How do I claim it ?

There are many variables involved when dealing with 'Unclaimed Property'.
You will need to contact the Register's Office in the jurisdiction of residence.

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4.1.  What are the duties of a personal representative ?

Maryland Law states that a personal representative "...is under general duty to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent in accordance with the terms of the will and the estates of decedents law as expeditiously and with little sacrifice of value as is reasonable under the circumstances." More specifically, in a regular estate the personal representative has a duty to: take possession of and marshal assets; prepare and file an inventory and information report; prepare and file an accounting; pay debts, taxes and costs of administration; and fulfill all other responsibilities required by Maryland Law.
Please refer to our publication "Administering Estates In Maryland" for more information. There is a link to it in our Publications Section.

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4.2.  What should the prospective personal representative bring to qualify ?

The basic needs for qualifying are: original will, if applicable; death certificate; estimated value of assets in decedent's name alone or as a tenant in common; completed forms, if possible (see publications mentioned below to determine type of estate); filing fee (cash or check) if filing small estate (see Fees Page); title or registration for motor vehicles; funeral bill or contract if filing small estate; and names and current addresses of interested persons.
For additional information, please see "Administering Estates In Maryland" (booklet) and "What To Do If You Need To Open An Estate" available in our Publications Section.

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4.3.  Does the personal representative have to post a surety bond ?

Yes, unless the personal representative is a financial institution.

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4.4.  Does the personal representative have to be a Maryland resident ?

An out of state resident may act as personal representative of a decedent's estate as long as a Maryland resident agrees to act as their agent. For more information, contact the Register's Office in the decedent's jurisdiction of residence.

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4.5.  What if the personal representative moves from Maryland to another state after the estate is opened ?

He/she remains personal representative as long as a resident agent is formally designated immediately.

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4.6.  What if the named personal representative is deceased or does not wish to serve ?

An alternate personal representative can be appointed.
Please contact the Register's Office in the decedent's jurisdiction of residence to discuss your particular situation.

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4.7.  What if the named personal representative wishes to be removed after being appointed ?

The personal representative may resign his/her appointment by filing a written statement with the Register of Wills after giving at least 20 days notice to all interested persons in writing.

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