One of the first things we ask clients who seek our help with a wrongful death case is whether they have opened an estate on their deceased loved one’s behalf. While many individuals will make the effort to have their affairs in order and draft a will before they die, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) up to 60% of Americans die intestate, or without a will or estate planning.
Opening an estate is a crucial first step in pursuing a wrongful death action because it is necessary in order to obtain the Decedent’s medical records. Because of federal and state law regarding the privacy of medical records, a healthcare provider will not release a Decedent’s medical records without written authorization from the Personal Representative of the estate, who is either appointed in a will or by the opening of an estate. Additionally, opening an estate is crucial because only the Personal Representative can pursue a survival action in a wrongful death claim, which is an action to recover the economic and non-economic damages incurred by the Decedent immediately prior to his death.
While the attorneys at Cardaro & Peek are not estate lawyers, we are able to walk clients through the process of opening a small estate for purposes of pursuing a wrongful death action. Once a small estate is opened and a Personal Representative is appointed, any proceeds from the wrongful death action either because of a verdict or settlement can be dispersed.
How to Open a Small Estate in Maryland
If the assets of the Decedent at the time of his death are $50,000, or $100,000 or less and his spouse is the sole surviving heir or legatee, one can open a small Estate at the Register of Wills office in the Maryland county where the Decedent lived. Once the Estate is opened, the Register of Wills can, that same day, issue Letters of Administration appointing the Personal Representative.
Here is a list of some of the items you will need to bring to the appropriate Register of Wills office:
- Names and addresses of persons interested in the estate;
- Decedent’s Last Will and Testament;
- Death Certificate;
- Funeral Contract/Bill;
- Approximate value of assets in the decedent’s name alone;
- Title to decedent’s automobiles and/or other motor vehicles;
Who Can Act as Personal Representative of the Estate?
The Personal Representative need not be the spouse or blood relative of the Decedent and can be anyone, from a friend to a girlfriend, boyfriend, or fiancé(e). However, the Personal Representative must provide notice to the “heirs and legatees” meaning the children and or spouse of the Decedent and obtain their consent. The “heirs and legatees” will then have an opportunity to challenge the appointment of a personal representative.
The Personal Representative must be 18, a Maryland resident, and cannot have a conviction for “serious crime”, meaning a crime that “reflects adversely on an individual’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness to perform the duties of a personal representative.” If the Personal Representative lives or moves out of state, he or she will need to appoint a Maryland resident to receive mail related to the administration of the Estate.
Contact The Law Offices of Cardaro & Peek, LLC Today
Do you believe that you or your loved one has suffered as a result of medical malpractice or medical neglect? You need to talk to an experienced team of local lawyers today.
The lawyers at Cardaro & Peek, LLC have the experience and resources necessary to investigate and litigate all types of medical claims throughout Maryland and Washington D.C. Cardaro & Peek, LLC has medical personnel on staff and has access to nationally recognized, board-certified physicians and other experts, to assist in the investigation, analysis, and prosecution of all types of medical malpractice claims. If you or a loved one have experienced malpractice, give us a call at 410-752-6166. Please visit our website www.cardarolaw.com and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for more information.