Managing Probate and Family Financial Matters Following the Death of a Loved One


Probate 101

What happens to a Power of Attorney when the principal dies? To put it bluntly, it becomes useless. Since a dead person cannot own property in Maryland, your right to manage the property of your loved one amounts to nothing the moment he dies. Your authority is extinguished, and it becomes someone else’s responsibility to manage the property that once belonged to your loved one.

Your right to make personal decisions, such as living arrangements, for the principal, also expires upon the death of your loved one. Your Power of Attorney, for example, will give you no particular authority over the management of funeral arrangements. This remains true even if the Power of Attorney includes an end date that is subsequent to your loved one’s date of death. Likewise, you cannot initiate a Power of Attorney on behalf of a dead person.

Estate Executors

Theoretically, the moment your loved one dies, any property they owned is transferred to their probate estate, unless they previously made other arrangements (see below). The probate estate is administered by the estate executor, typically the person named in your loved one’s last will and testament. Nevertheless, the court may appoint someone else if:

  •  The person named in the will is unwilling or unfit to serve;
  • The person named in the will is already dead;
  • The will cannot be located;
  • The will is invalidated (for some defect such as undue influence or lack of witnesses); or
  • Your loved one died without leaving a will.

You will probably be named estate executor if you are appointed to this position by the will, and you might be named executor if one of the foregoing exceptions applies. The deceased’s spouse is generally a Maryland probate court’s first choice when it is forced to select an executor on its own; offspring are generally its second choice. The powers of an executor in some cases exceed the power of attorney. 

Non-Probate Assets

Some or perhaps even all of your loved one’s property might be dealt with outside of probate process. Such property includes:

  • Living trust property
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Retirement accounts
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts
  • Property held in joint tenancy or Tenancy by the Entirety
  • Certain other forms of property ownership.

The disposal of this property will be governed by the rules applicable to that particular form of property. For example, the trustee will administer the disposition of assets from a living trust, perhaps continuing even decades after the death of your loved. Property held in joint tenancy and tenancy by the entirety, by contrast, automatically reverts to the co-tenant as soon as the other tenant dies.

How We Can Help

Estate planning requires the foresight to act today for the sake of tomorrow. At Altman & Associates, we help our clients plan and execute intelligent decisions for tomorrow that yield peace of mind today. Call us today at 301-468-3220, or fill out our online contact page, to set up a consultation at one of our offices in Columbia, Rockville, Washington, D.C., or Northern Virginia.

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