Probate Law in Maine

What Is a Probate Law?

A probate is a legal process that determines the validity and administration of a last will and testament. When an individual leaves behind assets, the court appoints an executor (if one is not named in the will). In either case, the appointed official collects all remaining assets, pays off any remaining liabilities, and disperses the remaining assets to beneficiaries listed in the will or to beneficiaries designated by the executor (if no will is present), all according to Maine probate law.

How Does Maine Probate Law and the Probate Process Work?

Locating the Will

In most cases, the decedent leaves clear direction regarding the location of the last will and testament or files one with a primary attorney. However, sometimes people have to go digging for one. In other cases, there is no will and the Maine court-appointed executor must handle all assets. 

It is also possible that the deceased created a living trust instead. A living trust is a document that places all assets into a trust and that transfer to a designated trustee upon death. Living trusts do not require any probation or courts. Many parties elect to go this route for the sake of convenience and avoiding drawn-out court battles. 

Each county in Maine has a court dedicated to adjudicating probate cases. For example, the Knox County Probate Court has operated out of the Knox County Courthouse since 1860.

Notifying the Court

Notifying the court to open the estate is the next step. The Maine probate law court clerk can handle this step, unless there is a named executor.

After the court receives notification, a scheduled hearing takes place. This officiates the executor appointee and grants him or her legal authority to operate on behalf of the last will and testament.

If there is no will and no designated executor, the court chooses the executor. Generally, the surviving spouse is first in line. After that, any adult children, parents, or siblings receive consideration.

Consolidating Assets

The executor must identify the decedent’s remaining assets. To do this, she or he reviews any related banking or financial documents and any other personal documents that could lead them toward recovering assets. Some examples of documents to collect are insurance records, titles, stock portfolios, and tax returns or filings.

To freeze and later close accounts, the executor must notify any financial institutions with outstanding accounts of the individual’s death. If there are any physical valuables in the decedent’s property, it is not uncommon for the executor to collect these items to prevent theft or damage.

The executor then determines the valuation of each item of the estate. This can be a lengthy process depending on the ease of locating all assets, including real estate, stocks, bonds, etc. Notifying creditors is the next step.

Notifying Creditors

Generally, the executor notifies creditors associated with the estate so they can make a claim if they have outstanding balances. Creditors have a specific time frame in which to file a claim, and this window can vary depending on state law.

The Maine Legislature says that a notice to creditors should publish once a week for two consecutive weeks in a county-wide newspaper. A creditor has up to four months from the publication to submit their claims to the executor.

Squaring Away Final Payments

The executor pays any funeral expenses (unless the family covers them) and any debts or taxes from the estate. The executor determines which creditor claims are accurate. Then, the executor squares away any outstanding debts to clear the estate of all obligations before being dispersed according to the will.

Proceeding With the Court

After valuing all the decedent’s assets and paying all outstanding debts, the executor submits a report detailing all estate spending to the Maine court. At this point, a judge reviews the materials. Assuming everything was done correctly, they render a decision to clear the executor to move forward with the final step.

Executing the Last Will and Testament

At this point, the executor disperses the assets to the designated beneficiaries laid out in the will. Depending on how detailed the will is, this could either be a simple process or it may divide the remaining family. A Maine probate law attorney can help you or a loved one avoid mistakes and counsel you on the best course in the event of a family estate battle.

A personal representative has authority under Maine law to administer the distribution of the estate. Probate Code says that the executor can exercise every action necessary under the law. Unless the will specifies otherwise. If the court becomes involved, the following may occur:

  • Filing the will with the court
  • Submitting a Petition for Probate
  • Publishing a notice to creditors in a county newspaper
  • Delivery of the Letters Testamentary to the successor personal representative
  • Completing an inventory of the estate that goes to a judge
  • Paying taxes and creditors from the assessed value of the property
  • Filing a petition to close probate
  • Distribution of the assets according to the court’s ruling

If there is no last will and testament, the executor assigns beneficiaries in accordance with Maine state laws. Generally speaking, the surviving spouse is first in line to receive any remaining assets. After that, the decedent’s children come next. Any surviving siblings would be next. From there, the executor works down through the surviving family based on their direct relation.

Is Probate Law Necessary?

No. There are alternatives to probating a will, but this really depends on the circumstances surrounding the decedent. The larger, more complex estates require attention to detail and patience as the executor works through all the different assets. Smaller estates are straightforward, which means involving the Maine probate law court may not be necessary to settle the estate.

Laws passed by the 128th Maine Legislature increased the minimum amount for probate to $40,000 to adjust for inflation. If a decedent’s property does not exceed this value, it’s considered a small estate and may not require a court process.

What Are the Differences Between a Living Trust and a Will?

Living trusts are a way to avoid probation. However, this is only one of the primary differences between a living trust and a will. Another main difference is that a living trust is only as good as the assets therein. This means that if you pass away without funding the trust with your assets, it is practically worthless. On the other hand, you do not have to fund a will, as you merely choose where to transfer your assets upon your death. It is important to note that there is no perfect solution for everyone.When deciding between a living trust and a will, bear in mind your risk of losing mental soundness or how close you may be to death. 

Setting up where your assets go after you die is an important decision. This is why you should consult with a Maine probate law attorney to make the correct decision.

Work With an Experienced Local Probate Law Attorney in Maine

Probate law attorneys assist with valuing your total assets and can provide insight into what the best move would be for you. Are you in need of a Maine probate law attorney who can help you and preserve the future of your family? We can even help you connect with an attorney across Maine state lines.

Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced probate law lawyer in your area!

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