How to Open a Small Estate in Maryland for an Accident Case

This is a guide for how to open an estate in Maryland. When the prospective defendant in an accident case is deceased, it is usually necessary to open an estate to give them the necessary legal standing to be a party in the tort case.

Below is an outline for getting an estate opened for litigation purposes. Of course, it the overwhelming majority of Maryland accident cases where this is necessary, you are suing an estate in name only because the claim is defended and paid by an insurance company.

  1. Check to make sure no estate has already been opened for the decedent. Use the Maryland Estate Search system.
  2. Contact the Register of Wills for the County where the decedent last resided and ask about the process for opening an estate. Each jurisdiction has its own fees and unique requirements.
  3. Order a Death Certificate.

File the Estate Petition

Your petition must include the following completed forms:




SCHEDULE B (Assets and Debts)

A hearing date is set in Orphans Court and takes approximately 30 minutes from start to finish.  Make it clear to the judge that the estate is being opened for litigation purposes only and you are requesting personal representative status for purposes of service and so the insurance company can issue a check on behalf of an entity that exists in place of their deceased insured (since he or she clearly doesn’t exist anymore….).  Some judges are okay if they understand you are an employee of the firm which is suing the estate, some are not – gauge carefully.

FAQs – Opening Estate in Maryland

How do I open an estate in Maryland?

To open a small estate in Maryland you will need to complete and file a number of different forms with the Register of Wills office for the county in the decedent resided. The list of required forms can be found on the State Register of Wills website and includes things like a list of assets and debts, a petition for administration, and a list of “interest persons.”

What is considered a small estate in Maryland?

A “small estate” in Maryland means that the property “subject to administration” has a value of less than $50,000 (or $100,000 if the spouse is sole heir).

How do I get a small estate affidavit in Maryland?

The Maryland Register of Wills has fill-in PDF forms for all necessary estate forms that need to be filed.

Does an estate have to be opened in Maryland?

Under Maryland law an estate must be filed if a decedent owned property individually or in a “tenancy in commons” with another person. If the decedent only owned property in a joint tenancy or tenancy by the entireties (default ownership form for spouses) then an estate is not required.

How much does an estate have to be worth to go to probate in Maryland?

If a decedent dies with property “subject to administration” with a value over $50,000, full probate will be required. If the value is under $50,000 the small estate process allows for a streamlined probate procedure.

How do I avoid probate in Maryland?

The only effective way to avoid probate of your estate in Maryland is to ensure that all of your assets are owned together with your spouse, children or heirs in some form of joint tenancy that way your interest automatically passes to the surviving joint tenants. The other option is to form some type of trust to assume ownership of your property.