For the first time in two decades, Anne Arundel County will have a new register of wills, as longtime incumbent George M. Nutwell Jr. is retiring.
Both candidates seeking to succeed him, Democrat Jacqueline Boone Allsup and Republican Lauren M. Parker, say they have no interest in overhauling an office known for kind and reliable service.
The office is a quiet space in the county courthouse where bereaved and often bewildered relatives, along with attorneys and accountants versed in probate law, deal with the intricacies of wills and estates.
"I am very sensitive to the needs of the community, and that it is a public service you are doing for people," said Allsup, 58, of Glen Burnie.
Allsup would like to enhance the office's outreach and education efforts, she said, "especially since we have a growing population of elderly people."
She also wants to increase the use of technology and streamline the completion of some of the forms, she said, but her first step would be to assess the office.
A nursing instructor at Anne Arundel Community College, Allsup once worked for the state in nursing administration, the field in which she holds a master's degree. She was assistant director of nurses at two state facilities, which she said gives her the management experience needed to run the 16-person office.
She has held appointed positions locally, serving as a member of the county's Drug and Alcohol Commission and on the transition team for Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.
She was vice chair of the Democratic Women of Anne Arundel County and an alternate to the Democratic Central Committee. She ran unsuccessfully for the school board and for Orphans Court judge.
She is a divorced parent of two grown children.
Seeking political office for the first time, Parker, 51, of Pasadena said her law practice has provided her with extensive experience in family law issues and kept her in regular contact with the register of wills office.
"Over the 20 years that I have been doing this work, I have drafted an average three wills a week," she said.
The office, she said, needs "a little fine tuning" and outreach through an updated Web site. She wants to familiarize more and younger people with wills and the probate process and allow people to electronically transmit drafts of their accounting, she said.
Parker said she would also advocate changing state law to pair the Maryland estate tax with the federal one, as was done until recent years. In Maryland, everything exceeding $1 million in the value of an estate is taxed, but the federal tax does not kick in until $2 million, a figure that will rise to $2.5 million next year. Escalating housing values, coupled with a lump-sum pension or two, can put an estate over $1 million, she said.
She is married and has a teenage son.
The register of wills also acts as the clerk for the Orphans Court's three judges. Three Democrats are hoping to unseat Republican incumbents for the part-time court positions.
The job has nothing to do with orphans; the judges, who need not be lawyers, decide disputes involving wills.
The Democrats are Walter D. Dow, 66, of Severn; Alex Carter Gudger, 62, of Annapolis; and Brian J. Metzbower, 53, of Glen Burnie.
The Republicans are Nancy C. Phelps, 58, of Gambrills; Gail J. Schaffer, 62, of Annapolis; and Gordon H. Witherspoon, 79, of Annapolis.
Dow, a retired Air Force master sergeant and former telecommunications consultant, is making his first bid for public office.
In recent years, he has been active in Democratic politics and has volunteered as a courthouse security worker for the sheriff's office.
He is married and has a grown daughter.
"I think I bring a sense of being able to look at things and see what has to be done," he said.
Gudger has a doctorate in English and holds part-time jobs as chairman of the Property Tax Appeals Board of Anne Arundel County, aide to retiring Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum of Montgomery County and group leader for a family program at Centro de Ayuda in Annapolis.
"I have had to go through probate, so I understand some of the intricacies of the court," said Gudger, a widow with two grown children.
She ran unsuccessfully for the position four years ago.
Metzbower, making his first foray into politics, is the owner of Pastore's, a Pasadena deli.
A former president of the Mountain Road Optimists, he has sponsored and coached Lake Shore community sports teams and was active in Chesapeake High School sports programs.
Divorced, he is the father of three grown daughters.
"This job is about listening and reviewing and making good decisions. I am very conscientious about everything I do," he said.
Phelps, seeking a third term, is a longtime real estate agent and former bookkeeper.
"I think I bring a lot to the job," she said, noting that the judges often are asked to consider real estate value and financial assets.
A longtime Linthicum civic and political volunteer, she moved to Gambrills a few years ago with her husband. She is a former representative on the Glen Burnie Town Center Committee.
She has a grown son.
Schaffer, the court's chief judge, is seeking a fourth term. The job, she said, requires separating legal issues from emotional issues to help families settle their disputes.
"The court really tries to follow the law, but a lot of times they are such highly emotional situations we are almost counselors," she said.
She is also an art welder and designer, a skill that she said "has taught me patience, for one thing" that she applies to the judge's job.
She is married and has an adult son.
Seeking a second term is Witherspoon, a former administrative law judge. He retired in 1997 but wanted an outlet to apply his experience, he said.
"I have always enjoyed being a judge. I am interested in the law," he said.
During his current term, the Attorney Grievance Commission and the Judicial Disabilities Commission reprimanded him. He was representing his son and daughter-in-law at no charge in a private matter in Baltimore County, but as an Orphans Court judge, he is not allowed to practice law.
A widower, Witherspoon has two adult children.
Yesterday, Nutwell endorsed his fellow Republicans, Parker and the incumbent Orphans Court judges.
Two other court contests have been decided.
The only Circuit Court judge on the ballot is unopposed. William C. Mulford II, appointed by the governor last year, is seeking a full 15-year term in the nonpartisan race. Mulford, a Republican, is a former member of the Anne Arundel County Council.
Republican Robert P. Duckworth, incumbent clerk of the court, won the primary; no Democrat is seeking the job.