In Maryland, a will must be a written document.
Wills control assets titled solely in the Decedent’s name, which may not designate a beneficiary. Assets that are co-owned, or that name a beneficiary, are distributed to those persons outside of probate.
The other requirements for a valid will are that the person signing the document is mentally competent and over 18 years of age. It must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who also sign it in its owner’s presence. A will only takes effect at your death, and prior to that time it serves merely to show intent.
- Name your executor(s), guardian(s) for minor children, and/or trustee(s)
- Detail your funeral burial/cremation decisions
- In particular circumstances, create trusts for children or other purposes such as tax planning
- List specific bequests when desired
- Avoid distribution under intestacy by stating who inherits, what they inherit and when they inherit from your estate
In Maryland, a Last Will & Testament (“Will”) is always a written document taking effect at your death. It is a set of instructions specifying the management and distribution of your estate.
Is my Will valid while I am alive?
Yes, but it is not enforceable until you die.
What are the requirements for a valid Will in Maryland?
Any competent person over the age of 18 may sign a Will. This must occur in the presence of two witnesses who also sign the document in front of each other.
What should my Will contain?
Among other instructions your Will should:
- Name executor(s) and alternate(s),
- Name who inherits, their relationship to you, when they inherit, and what happens if that person dies before you,
- Name guardians if both parents die with minor children,
- If there are taxes which arise as a result of your death, (such as an estate or inheritance tax), or that survive you, (such as income tax), detail how they are to be are paid, and
- List any specific bequests.
What controls, my Will or the titling of an asset?
Regardless of a Will’s contents, titling controls:
- When one owner named on an account dies, the surviving owner owns the account, and
- An asset which names a beneficiary is owned by that person at the owner’s death.
When does a Will become stale, can a copy be used to open an estate, and when should I update my Will?
- Wills do not become stale because of age.
- A properly drafted Will is valid until it is replaced.
- Normally the originally signed Will and not a copy must be used to open the estate. On occasion, a copy may be accepted by the court.
- A review of your planning documents should occur every 3 to 5 years as laws, your circumstances, and your goals change.
- When these changes occur, your Will should be updated through an amendment called a “Codicil” or a new Will should be prepared.
Disclaimer – This overview is provided for general information relevant for planning undertaken in Maryland only. None of the information within should be relied upon. Statutes, regulations, and the cases interpreting them are constantly changing. Consult an attorney before taking any action. Your reliance on or use of this information does not create an attorney/client relationship or privilege between you and the law firm and its employees, or their heirs, personal representatives, successors, or assigns.
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