Maryland Intestate Succession

When a person passes away without a valid will in Maryland, their estate is subject to the state’s intestacy laws, a complex set of rules determining how their assets are distributed among surviving relatives. As an experienced estate planning attorney in Annapolis, MD, Raymond E. Brown understands the intricacies of Maryland’s intestate succession laws and the importance of proactive estate planning to avoid leaving the distribution of your estate to the default provisions of the state. 

Maryland’s intestacy laws can lead to unexpected and often undesirable outcomes for the deceased’s loved ones, making the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney like Raymond E. Brown invaluable in ensuring that your estate is handled according to your wishes.

Reach out now to take the first step towards securing your estate and your family’s future. Simply call us at (443) 554-9944 or contact us online to speak with an experienced Annapolis estate planning attorney today. 

Intestacy Definition

According to Maryland law, intestacy refers to the condition of an estate when a person dies without leaving a valid last will and testament. This means that the deceased person’s property and assets are distributed according to the state’s laws of intestacy, rather than personal wishes. 

These laws dictate a specific distribution hierarchy among the living descendants and relatives. The primary aim is to approximate what the average person might have intended, typically favoring immediate family members such as the spouse and children.

How To Avoid Intestate Succession

Who is Considered an Heir to an Estate?

The heirs to an estate are determined by a clear hierarchy of kinship, ensuring that the estate of a deceased person is distributed to close relatives if there is no valid will. At the top of this hierarchy is the surviving spouse, who is typically entitled to a significant portion of the estate. If there are no surviving children, the spouse may inherit everything; however, the presence of biological children or adopted children can change the distribution, with the estate being divided equally among them and the spouse. It’s important to note that stepchildren or foster children do not automatically inherit under intestacy laws unless they were legally adopted. 

In the absence of a spouse and children, a surviving parent or other surviving blood relatives are considered next in line. Distant relatives may inherit only if there are no closer kin. This structured approach seeks to distribute an estate fairly among those most closely related to the deceased, reflecting a presumed intent of support and continuity within the family unit.


Heirs-at-law in Maryland are defined as individuals who are legally entitled to inherit from a decedent’s estate under the state’s intestacy laws when a person dies without a valid will. This group can include surviving spouses, children, parents, siblings, and even more distant relatives such as grandparents or great-grandparents if no closer relatives are alive. 

For instance, if the decedent is survived by a spouse and minor children, the spouse inherits a portion of the estate with the remainder divided among the children. If there are no living children, siblings, or parents, the estate may pass to more distant kin.

The role of a personal representative is crucial in such circumstances, as they are responsible for identifying these heirs according to Maryland law and ensuring the estate is distributed accordingly. An experienced Maryland estate planning attorney can provide invaluable guidance in navigating these complex intestacy laws, helping individuals plan their estates to ensure their wishes are honored and their loved ones are provided for in accordance with their desires.

Lineal Heirs

Lineal heirs are direct descendants and ancestors within a family, including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. These beneficiaries are considered in the direct line of descent or ascent from the deceased, meaning they are directly related by blood or adoption. In the context of property distribution, lineal heirs play a significant role.

For instance, if a person dies without a will, their entire estate may be distributed to these lineal heirs according to the laws of intestacy. The order in which the estate is divided among lineal heirs typically starts with the children of the deceased. If there are no living children, the estate may pass to grandchildren or great-grandchildren. 

If the person has no descendants, the estate could ascend to surviving parents or even grandparents. The concept of lineal heirs ensures that an estate remains within the family, passing from one generation to the next, either up or down the family tree.

Intestacy Laws in Maryland

Rules of Intestacy

Under Maryland intestacy laws, when an individual passes away without a will, their estate is considered “intestate,” and the distribution of assets falls under the state’s intestate succession laws. These laws serve as the default rules set by the county board to determine how an intestate property is divided among surviving relatives. 

Intestate succession in Maryland aims to distribute the deceased’s property in a manner that reflects how the average person might have intended, with close family members receiving intestate shares in equal parts. This means that assets are allocated to surviving spouses, children, and other relatives in predefined equal shares, ensuring a fair and orderly transfer of the intestate estate to the deceased’s next of kin. 

Spousal Inheritance Rights in Maryland

In Maryland, the rights of a surviving spouse to inherit property under intestate succession laws are clearly defined, providing a spouse with a significant “spouse’s share” of the decedent’s estate. The exact portion of the intestate share a spouse inherits varies depending on the family situation. If the decedent is survived by children they had together, the spouse inherits the first $40,000 of the intestate estate plus half of the remaining assets, with the children receiving the other half. If there are no children, but the decedent is survived by parents, the spouse again inherits the first $40,000 plus half of the balance, the parents receiving the remainder. 

In cases where the person has no descendants or surviving parents, the spouse inherits the entire estate. Especially relevant in “small estate” cases, these rules underscore the importance of understanding one’s entitlements and the law’s approach to protecting the surviving spouse’s financial future.

Surviving Children’s Inheritance Rights in Maryland

When a parent dies without a will, the law specifies how children—whether they are minor children, adopted children, or biological children—inherit property. According to Maryland law, all biological and legally adopted children are treated equally and have the right to receive their “child’s share” of the estate. This means that the estate is divided equally among all surviving children of the decedent, ensuring each child receives an equal portion of the inheritance. 

It’s important to note that stepchildren do not automatically inherit under Maryland’s intestate succession laws unless they were legally adopted by the decedent.

Surviving Parents, Siblings, and Other Relatives as Heirs

When a person dies without a will and leaves no surviving spouse or children, the rights to inherit property extend to parents, siblings, and other relatives in a specific order. 

Parents of the deceased are the first in line to inherit, receiving the entire estate if there are no descendants. If the decedent has no surviving parents, the estate is then divided equally among siblings. This distribution plan ensures that the assets stay within the family, even extending to grandparents or more distant relatives if there are no living parents or siblings.

This structured approach provides clarity and fairness in the distribution of assets, ensuring that even in the absence of a will, there is a legally defined path for inheritance among the decedent’s closest relatives.

Maryland Intestate Succession

How To Avoid Intestate Succession With Proper Estate Planning

Avoiding intestate succession and ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes can be effectively achieved through proper estate planning. This often starts with creating a will, a legal document that specifies how you want your estate to be handled after your death. A will ensures your assets are distributed to the people and organizations you care about most, rather than being allocated by state default rules. Beyond a will, estate planning can include trusts, healthcare directives, powers of attorney, and more, all tailored to protect your interests and those of your beneficiaries. 

Hiring an estate planning attorney is invaluable in this process. An attorney brings experience in navigating complex legal frameworks and understanding the nuances of state laws, making the estate planning process more straightforward and ensuring your estate plan is both comprehensive and legally sound. 

Maryland Intestate Succession Laws

Call The Law Office of Raymond E. Brown for Legal Assistance with Intestate Succession Matters in Maryland

With deep knowledge of Maryland’s estate laws and a compassionate approach to each client’s unique needs, The Law Office of Raymond E. Brown is your trusted partner in crafting a comprehensive estate plan that ensures your wishes are honored. Call (443) 554-9944 or complete our online intake form to begin the journey towards peace of mind and a secure legacy for your family.

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