Dear Mr. Azrael:
Recently, my mother passed away and I am the executor of her will. There are two ground rents that she owned.
How do I turn them over to other family members? Can I do this myself or do I have to have a lawyer to process the papers? How much would this cost, as the properties are very old?
Under Maryland probate law, there is a specific process that must be followed to transfer real property of a decedent to the persons who are legally entitled to receive the property.
First, an estate must be opened with the register of wills in the county where the decedent lived. The decedent's will, if any exists, must be filed, and a personal representative (executor) must be appointed. Except where the value of assets is minimal, a notice of the estate must be published in a local newspaper and sent to all persons who are legally interested in the estate. The personal representative is required to file an inventory listing all of the assets, both real and personal, owned in the decedent's sole name. Ground rents constitute real property and should be included in the estate inventory.
After paying the decedent's funeral expenses, debts and administration expenses, the personal representative usually is required to file a final accounting showing to whom the decedent's property was distributed.
Ground rents and other real property are distributed to the decedent's heirs by the personal representative signing and recording a deed in the land records. This conveys the title of the real estate to the recipient designated in the decedent's will (or to the decedent's legal heirs, if there is no will). Since your mother's estate includes ground rents, it is necessary for you to follow these probate procedures. Although you are not required to have a lawyer, you probably will need the assistance of one to handle some aspects of the estate proceedings, including preparing deeds to distribute the ground rents.
Normally, a lawyer will charge on an hourly basis or may agree to a specific fee. If you do not have a lawyer, the Baltimore County Lawyer Referral Service (410-337-9100) can refer you to one familiar with estate administration.