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Maryland Escheatment Laws


You have probably heard stories of estate research firms that try to match cash-strapped people with the estates of long-lost relatives who have recently died, and from whom the clients could inherit.  The whole business sounds sleazy, from the sense of entitlement required to ask perfect strangers for large sums of money, while striking a tone somewhere between affected familiarity and capitalist Realpolitik, to the added stress that personal representatives of estates face when dealing with these people.  If you are in the mood for a page-turning read, check out the Florida appeals court’s ruling against an estate research firm that convinced three elderly women in Austria to file a claim on the estate of their long-lost father, during which process the personal representative of the estate found out that she had three half-sisters she never knew about, except that all three presumptive heirs were too agoraphobic to board a plane to Florida to claim their inheritance.  Which clause in the legal code gives such operations a reason to exist?  It has to do with laws on unclaimed property.  A Washington, D.C. estate planning lawyer can help you fine tune your estate plan to ensure that your estate does not end up in the estate law equivalent of the lost and found.

How Does Escheatment Happen in Maryland?

The Comptroller of Maryland estimates that there is $2.1 billion of unclaimed property in the state of Maryland, in the form of bank accounts and insurance benefits.  Maryland makes every effort to hold onto unclaimed property so that, when someone is ready to claim it, it is still there.  During the probate of an estate, the personal representative must make a diligent effort to locate all of the decedent’s assets.  This is not an easy task if the decedent did not write a will, did not talk much to anyone about his or her finances, and was generally disorganized.  If you think that the personal representative settled the estate without collecting all the property, contact the Comptroller.

In some cases, the state can escheat property, meaning that it can declare itself the heir.  Escheatment is a rare occurrence in Maryland.  It only happens when the decedent does not have a will and does not have any surviving family members related to the decedent by blood or marriage.  When the state escheats unclaimed property at the end of probate, the money goes to the Board of Education in the county where the decedent resided.

How to Avoid the Escheatment of Your Property

The simplest way to avoid the escheatment of your property is to write a will.  Be as specific as possible in identifying the beneficiaries, and include their contact information, whether they are individuals or charities.  Check the beneficiaries’ contact information every year and update it if necessary.

Contact Us About Keeping Your Property Out of Escheatment

A Washington, D.C. estate planning attorney can help you protect your property from escheatment.  Contact Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing in Washington, D.C. or call 202-362-5900.




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