The Office of the Register of Wills has existed in Anne Arundel County since 1777. The original and primary purpose was to hold the last wills and testament of county citizens for safekeeping. When someone dies and owns any property or assets, an estate must be opened. The Register of Wills is where the appropriate pleadings and documents are filed in order to open the estate.
In order to open an estate, the family — or more specifically, the personal representative (or executor) — must file the original will, along with a death certificate, at which time Letters of Administration are issued by the Register of Wills. The Letter of Administration is the legal document that gives the personal representative the power to administer the estate. It is surprising how many people’s wills “disappear” during the viewing or funeral service. In some instances, the will may be taken and destroyed by a family member who discovers that they have been excluded or disinherited in the will.
In more and more instances, a decedent who develops dementia or Alzheimer’s may hide the will or can’t remember where they put it and the family never finds it. If that is the case, it may not be possible for the person to have a new will created, as the person may no longer be competent to execute a legal document. In some instances, the person’s attorney retains the original will. In that situation, what happens if the attorney dies or retires? Their files may be stored at some remote location or destroyed after a certain period of time has expired. If the decedent’s will cannot be located, then the decedent’s assets are then distributed according to the laws of Maryland and not necessarily the way in which the decedent wanted them to be distributed.
The register must frequently deal with bank legal departments regarding powers of attorney and go to banks to open safe deposit boxes to locate and retrieve original wills. The register advises Maryland citizens to register their wills for safekeeping with the office. The cost is only $5 and the will is placed in a secure and protected vault that will be saved for life.
The Anne Arundel County Register of Wills is available to answer your estate or probate questions. Call Frame & Frame at 410-255-0373 for assistance with your estate or probate matter.