Estate-Planning 101 - Understand How to Protect Your Assets and Your Loved Ones

You have several options if you want to protect your assets and your loved ones in Maryland. A Maryland estate-planning attorney can help you sort through your options and develop strategies for optimizing the types of documents we can use in our state.

If you do nothing, and you do not have a valid will or trust document when you pass on, the state of Maryland gets to distribute your assets according to state "intestacy" laws.  The only way you get to have a voice is to prepare documents beforehand. Also, when the state distributes your assets through intestacy, the fees and costs for them to do so can eat up a lot of the assets you could have given to your loved ones.

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Drafting a Will in Maryland

In a will, also called a last will and testament, you can put down on paper what you want to leave to which people or organizations. You can name someone to serve as a personal guardian for your minor children and identify the person who will manage their property until they become of legal age. Also, you can name the person who will carry out the terms of your will.  This person is the personal representative.

Although Maryland does not require you to have a lawyer write your will, an estate planning attorney can help you avoid situations that could make a will invalid. You need not have your will notarized in Maryland, but you need to sign it in front of two witnesses who also sign the document. 

Making a Trust in Maryland

Our state allows you to create trusts for many purposes, one of which is to distribute your assets and protect your loved ones. With a living trust, you name someone to be the trustee. You can be the trustee of your living trust and manage your assets throughout your lifetime. The trustee holds legal title to the property.

One of the many advantages of living trusts is to avoid our state's complex probate court process. We do not follow the Uniform Probate Code, which is legislation that simplified the probate process in other states.

A trust does not go through the probate court as a will does. Because it stays outside of the court system, you will have more privacy over the distribution of your assets by using a trust than you would have with a will.

A trust can allow you to keep assets in the trust over a period of time after your death. You cannot do this with a will. If, for example, one of your loved ones has a special need or issue, you can craft a trust with terms tailored to serve that person's best interests.

Maryland Powers of Attorney

You should consider two types of power of attorney documents for your estate plan. The first is a standard power of attorney, in which you can designate someone to act on your behalf on business or financial matters if you are unable to do so. For example, with a durable power of attorney, you can name someone to pay your bills, manage your investments, and make decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

Another type of document, a medical power of attorney, allows you to decide who will make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot do so. Because of HIPAA regulations, you should also prepare a release of medical records so your designated decision-maker will have the authority to review your medical records and talk with your doctors before making decisions on your behalf.

Get Advice From a Trusted Maryland Estate-Planning Attorney

This article is a broad overview of how to use some of the basic estate planning devices to protect your assets and your loved ones. A Maryland estate-planning attorney can answer your questions and draft the documents you need. Contact Thienel Law today to schedule a time to review your estate plan soon. Maryland estate-planning lawyer Steve Thienel is dedicated to assisting clients in Maryland, Virginia, and throughout the DC Metro area.