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When Your Loved One Dies Without a Will...

A Guide to Obtaining the Letters of Administration to be the Personal Representative of an Estate  

In the event a loved one is the victim of wrongful death, such as in a case of nursing home abuse/neglect, only the Personal Representative(s) with the official Letters of Administration can file a lawsuit on behalf of the Estate.  

  • The Personal Representative(s) is a legal term for the person(s) who can act as the official representative and decision-maker for a deceased person (the deceased person is often called the decedent). The Personal Representative named in a Will is often called the Executor of the Will. 

  • The Letters of Administration are the legal documents you need as proof to identify yourself as the Personal Representative and to perform legal and financial actions on his or her behalf.  

  • The Estate is the legal term for all of the decedent’s financial interests. This includes any unfinished business, such as lawsuits, individually owned assets (real estate, businesses, bank accounts, investments, insurance policies, vehicles, and other items of value), and all the decedent's outstanding financial obligations (taxes, bills, accounts, funeral expenses, etc.). 

Duties of the Personal Representative 

The Personal Representative is responsible for settling the estate of the decedent. When settling the estate, the Personal Representative collects anything owed to the decedent, pays any outstanding debts, closes any open accounts, and fairly distributes any remaining assets to the appropriate beneficiaries or surviving family members. To the extent they are able, the Personal Representative executes the instructions within the decedent’s Will, if there is one. There can be other duties as well, including timely filing of documents, responding to court orders, and providing notification when called upon. Certain assets might have to be sold to settle the estate, and the Personal Representative would be in charge of the sale of those assets and distributing the proceeds from the sales. In the case of wrongful death, the Personal Representative would manage the lawsuit and any money awarded to the decedent’s estate.  

Filing a Lawsuit 

The Personal Representative has the power to choose a lawyer, file a lawsuit, discuss the life and death of the decedent with the attorney, respond to requests from the opposing attorney, make the decision whether to accept a settlement if offered, possibly go to court, and manage/distribute and money obtained as part of a lawsuit, which would go to the Estate. 

Establishing Yourself as the Personal Representative 

Ideally, your loved one has left a Will that designates the person specifically chosen as the Personal Representative. If there is no Personal Representative, there is a process in which the courts will appoint one. Below, we will help you walk through the process of having a Personal Representative appointed by the courts in Maryland and obtaining the Letters of Administration so that you can open an estate on behalf of your loved one.  

Opening an Estate Without a Will 

The following outlines the process of opening an estate if the decedent has died without a Will. 

Determining If You Are the Personal Representative 

If the decedent left no Will naming a Personal Representative or if that person is unable or unwilling to fill the role, Maryland Law will appoint a Personal Representative. The law establishes a pecking order based on the Will (if one exists) and the person’s relationship to the decedent when appointing a Personal Representative. For our purposes, we are assuming there is no Will. According to Maryland Code, Estates and Trusts, Section 5-104, the priority for appointing a personal representative is generally as follows: 

  1. Surviving spouse; 

  1. Surviving children; 

  1. Surviving grandchildren; 

  1. Surviving parents of the decedent; 

  1. Surviving brothers and sisters of the decedent; 

This is the order the court will follow in appointing the Personal Representative. It’s best if the family can agree on who will be the Personal Representative, and there can be more than one. A person with higher priority can voluntarily decline to be the Personal Representative, and it goes to the next person on the priority list. The courts can disqualify a person if there is reason to do so, such as he or she is mentally incapable, it is a spouse in which divorce has been filed, the person is under the age of 18, a person guilty of criminal conduct against the decedent, etc.  

Once you have been appointed the Personal Representative of the Estate, you will receive Letters of Administration from the courts, which you will need to officially open the Estate, so that you can manage the decedent’s affairs, including a lawsuit (e.g., nursing home abuse or neglect).  

General Steps to Open a Small Estate 

1. Visit this webpage to view all possible forms 

2. Download Form No. 1103. Petition for Administration of a Small Estate (including Schedule B) 

3. Select the County where the decedent resided 

4. Download Form No. 1104: List of Interested Persons 

5. Download Form No. 1124: Information Report 

6. Fill out all the forms.

7. Attach the following: 

  1. Copy of the funeral bill 

  1. Original Death certificate, and 

  1. Original will (if one exists) 

  2. File with the Register of Wills of the county in which the decedent resided at the time of his/her death (e.g., the location of the nursing home). See the County List on the left side of this webpage for the contact information of every county.  

  3. The register of Wills will provide you with Letters of Administration that day, which names the petitioner as Personal Representative. There is usually a $2.00 fee to receive the Letters of Administration.  

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This site offers legal information, not legal advice. Although we do our best to provide helpful information about your options, your specific needs require specific legal advice, and for that you should consult an attorney.  At Brown & Barron, we can help walk you through the process of the Personal Representative and Letters of Administration.  

Our attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC focus on representing the families of nursing home residents who have been neglected or abused. We know first-hand how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are to injuries. If you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of nursing home negligence, we invite you to contact our team as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options. 

To learn more, visit our COVID Resource Center. To contact our team, call (410) 213-3242 today for a consultation. 

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