If you die without a will, you have died “intestate”. In general, the Maryland laws of intestacy provide that a surviving spouse receive one-half of the residuary estate, plus an additional $15,000 if there are no surviving minor children. The children will receive the other half of the residue, or the decedent’s surviving parents, if there are no children. If the decedent has no children or surviving parents, the entire estate will pass to the surviving spouse.

In Maryland, the heirs-at-law are organized by degrees of relationship. If a decedent has no surviving spouse or direct descendants or direct ancestors, the brothers and sisters would be considered the next of kin. If none, then you move over on the family tree to surviving aunts and uncles, cousins, first cousins once removed, etc. The Maryland intestacy laws extend to the class of a decedent’s great-grandparents’ direct descendants. These relative are generally referred to as “laughing heirs” because, in many situations, they receive the decedent’s estate without having a close personal connection with the decedent.

Intestacy may also be problematic if a decedent dies with a minor child or children. Under Maryland law, if the minor’s parents are both deceased, a guardian named in the parents’ will typically has priority of appointment as guardian of the minor.

We highly recommend that you seek legal counsel and, together, draft a will or estate plan, so that guardianships of minors and the distribution of your estate are not left to the Maryland legislature to decide. At Franke, Sessions & Beckett LLC, we have narrowed our practice to the law of estates and trusts, providing services in estate planning, estate administration and fiduciary litigation. We work as a team to tailor your engagement to suit your specific needs.