“Three Categories of Assets at Death” by Attorney Colleen Sinclair Prosser
There are many ways to hold title to assets during your life. Upon your death, the title to each asset must be reviewed and transferred according to how it was titled. In order to determine how to transfer the assets of a decedent, we must place the assets in three different categories.
The first category is Probate assets. These assets are solely owned by the decedent and will be reported to the Register of Wills for probate. A “Personal Representative” will be appointed to re-title or disburse the assets. The Register of Wills office will issue a “Letter of Administration” to the Personal Representative so they may administer and transfer the estate assets. In the state of Maryland, estates must remain open for a minimum of six months by law, unless the estate is insolvent.
The second category are Non-Probate and Non-Trust assets. Typically, these type of assets are jointly owned, or assets with beneficiaries, such as life insurance and retirement accounts. These assets do not have to be probated, unless the beneficiary or co-owner has passed away and there is no contingent beneficiary.
The third category of assets are Trust assets. These assets are held in the trust and are transferred after death, but not under the supervision of the Register of Wills or the Orphan’s Court. In most circumstances, the trust is a private document. Generally, the Trustor also known as Grantor (the person creating the trust) is the initial “Trustee”. If that person or persons have passed away, the Successor Trustee has control over trust assets. Some financial institutions, such as banks, credit unions and brokerage houses do not really understand the trust document and often ask for letters of administration to control the asset. You do not need letters of administration to transfer trust assets. We recommend copying the page that creates the trust, the page that appoints the successor trustee, and the signature page and provide that to the financial institution. You can also provide a certificate of trust which is a short synopsis of the trust. Providing this documentation should enable you to act as Successor Trustee and control the assets during the trust administration process.
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