For many reasons, have a will before you die

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

Now that were pretty close to the New Year, you (and I mean you, the two or three readers of this column) should really resolve that this is the year to get your will and other related documents together. I may have mentioned this before, but it is a really very important matter; and, you cant realize how difficult it is to come up with a different topic each and every week.

If youre one of those people who think you dont need a will because your spouse or your children will inherit everything regardless, you are mistaken.

In Maryland, your surviving spouse will receive one-half of everything if you have children (the children will get equal shares of the remainder of the estate). If you have surviving parents as well as a spouse, the spouse will receive $15,000 plus one-half of the remainder of the estate ? the parent or parents will receive the rest. See how convoluted this can become (and very quickly, I might add).

However, if you do pass on without a will, at the very least, you will be in for a court battle. Dying intestate (that is, without a will) means that a relative must hire an attorney to open up your estate. Now, even if you pass on with a will, youll have to hire an attorney to deal with probate, but it is a much, much easier process, believe me.

The court will appoint a personal representative to execute the necessary divisions of your estate, while fending off challenges from your surviving relatives who may feel entitled to a piece of your estate. It can be a very costly and emotionally draining process for those left behind. This handy chart shows you how your property what you worked so hard to obtain and accumulate over the course of your life will be distributed in a manner entirely out of your control. To wit:

This handy chart shows you exactly how your estate would be divided. But, youll have to take into account the attendant attorneys fees that your estate will incur as a result of your situation.

I know all of the excuses Ive heard them all before. Most think that their families wouldnt stoop to fighting over their property. But Im here to tell you they do, and the fight gets very ugly, very fast because of the family relationship and the emotions involved in the battle.

The things Ive seen siblings do to themselves and one another over the last crumb of an estate would make you want to get your final papers in place on the double. Ive even initiated talks with my siblings about how things will be handled among the three surviving children when and if our parents pass on. I dont want their deaths to cause acrimony between us the true loss is the loss of our parents.

I know it may sound a bit morbid during this holiday season, but planning for your familys future is quite in line with the holiday spirit. The last thing you want to leave your spouse and your kids is a poisonous situation. If that is the case, there will be no peace and love for the foreseeable future.

Christopher L. Markham is a general practice attorney based in Frederick. He can be reached at

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