Inheritance Law and Your Rights | South Portland, ME

Inheritance Law Guide

Someone has died, and the deceased’s friends, relatives, and loved ones are left to figure out what to do with the things left behind. Both estate assets and liabilities can be included in this category. Whether a will was left or not, understanding how inheritance laws work is extremely important to avoid conflicts and save someone from being left with nothing but debt.

Inheritance laws are legislation and regulations that govern how people inherit assets from a deceased family member’s estate. These laws guarantee that beneficiaries receive some kind of inheritance if a will was not made or did not cover all of the deceased’s assets. In certain circumstances, these laws also grant some relatives the right to inherit, which they may exercise regardless of the contents of the deceased’s will.

Do you have questions about your inheritance rights in Maine? Or do you need help in drafting a will? Call our law office now to set up an appointment with our Maine South Portland estate planning attorneys for a free estate planning and asset protection strategy session.

At Jackson & MacNichol, we recognize that estate planning can be a difficult and emotional process that can literally determine your family’s future. Given the complexities of estate planning, contacting our experienced South Portland estate planning attorneys can help make things less complicated by explaining all what you need to know about inheritance rights. So give us a call now!

Understanding Maine Inheritance Laws

In the context stated here, inheritance laws normally apply to the deceased individual’s surviving spouse or partner. Although there are fewer laws concerning children, it is not uncommon for them to inherit a portion of a decedent’s estate assets.

Most states like Maine have laws in place to protect against unintentional disinheritance if a will predates the birth of a child and is not updated before the parent’s death. That way, if one child is left out of a will but their siblings are provided for, it will be presumed that the omission was unintentional and the left-out child will get an equal share. These laws may also extend to grandchildren in certain jurisdictions.

When a person dies without leaving a will, their estate is said to be “in intestacy.” This implies that a court-appointed administrator will gather all of the deceased’s assets, settle all debts and taxes, and transfer what remains to the beneficiaries in accordance with the state’s laws. A will may also be deemed intestate if it is judged invalid for several reasons.

In either case, the assets of the deceased person can only be given out by the probate court that has control over the estate.

How Does Probate Court in Maine Work?

After a person dies, their estate goes through a legal process called probate. To begin the probate process, you must file an “Application for Probate” to the probate court in the county where the deceased person resided. Each county in Maine has its very own probate court.

If the deceased left a Will, it must be filed with the probate court. The probate judge will determine whether the Will is valid or not. If a “Personal Representative” – also known as an “Executor” or “Executrix” – is named in the Will, the probate court will legally appoint that individual to manage the estate. If a Personal Representative is not named in the Will, the court will designate someone to do so in accordance with Maine law.

Intestacy: What Happens If You Don’t Have A Will In Maine?

If you’re a resident of Maine and die without leaving a will, your property is considered to pass by “intestacy,” and the law in Maine will determine how your property, known as your “probate estate,” is going to be distributed.

Your Spouse’s Share of Your Inheritance Relies on Who Else Survives You

Unlike several states’ laws, Maine’s intestacy law does not automatically pass your entire probate estate to your surviving spouse. Your surviving spouse’s probate estate share is determined by whether you leave behind surviving parents or “issue.” Your “issue” is your lineal descendants, which include your children, grandchildren, and even more distant descendants.

  • If you have no surviving parent or “issue,” your surviving spouse inherits your entire probate estate after paying your debts, administration charges, and statutory allowances.
  • If you leave behind a surviving parent but no surviving issue, your spouse gets only the initial $50,000 plus one-half of your probate assets after paying your debts, administration expenses, and statutory allowances.
  • If you have no surviving parent but left behind an issue, all of whom are your and your spouse’s descendants, your spouse gets the first $50,000 plus one-half of your probate assets after your administration expenses, debts and statutory allowances are paid.
  • If you die without a surviving parent but leave a surviving child, nevertheless is not your spouse’s issue, your spouse gets just half of your probate estate after debts, administrative charges, and statutory allowances are paid.
  • If you do not have a spouse but have a “registered domestic partner,” he /she has the same right as a surviving spouse to receive all or part of your probate estate. A “registered domestic partner” is someone who has been recognized as a registered domestic partner by the Maine Bureau of Vital Records’ Maine Domestic Partner Registry. This provision became law in Maine in 2004.

In Maine, once your surviving spouse or registered domestic partner receives their share, the remaining probate estate is divided as follows:

If you leave behind issue, your probate estate is divided “per capita at each generation” among your issue;

  1. If you have no surviving children, the remainder of your probate estate is divided equally between your parents.
  2. If you have no surviving children or parents, the remainder of your probate estate is distributed to your parents’ issue, “per capita at each generation”;
  3. If you have no surviving issue, parents, or parents’ issue, your remaining probate estate is divided equally between your maternal and paternal grandparents (If there are no surviving issues on one side, the balance of your probate property goes to the surviving issue.).
  4. If you leave no surviving issue, parent, parent’s issue, grandparent, or grandparent’s issue but are survived by great-grandparents or their issue, half of your probate estate goes to the maternal side and half to the paternal side (unless one side has no living issue, your remaining estate goes to the surviving issue).
  5. If no great-grandparents’ descendants survive, the intestate estate falls to the State of Maine.

Which Assets Pass through Intestate Succession?

Intestate succession rules apply only to assets that pass through probate. Many valuable assets do not go through probate and hence are not impacted by intestate succession rules. Here are a few such examples:

  • property that you have transferred to a living trust
  • Proceeds from a life insurance policy with a designated beneficiary
  • assets in a designated IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account
  • securities kept in a transfer-on-death account
  • real estate with a transfer-on-death deed
  • Vehicles on which you have a transfer-on-death registration or payable-on-death bank accounts
  • property you own under joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety with someone else

Whether you have a will or not, these assets will transfer to the surviving co-owner or the beneficiary you chose. However, if you do not leave a will and none of the specified beneficiaries are surviving to receive the property, the property could be transferred by intestate succession.

Do All Estates in Maine Have to Go Through County Probate Court?

Most estates will have to go through probate because they were not designed to avoid it. Smaller estates, however, may escape formal probate with an affidavit if the value is less than $40,000. Real estate that has a transfer on death deed can also escape probate and go straight to the named beneficiary. If the deceased put all assets in a living trust or selected a beneficiary for all assets, the estate may be able to avoid county probate court.

Is there an Inheritance Tax or an Estate Tax in Maine?

There is no inheritance tax for residents of Maine. However, Maine residents and those who own property in Maine but live abroad should be mindful of the Maine estate tax.

Because Maine’s estate tax threshold is $ million, heirs will not be required to file a state estate tax return if the amount of the estate is less than $4 million. That is, if you die with an estate worth less than $ million, Maine will not collect any tax.

However, if the estate is valued at more than $ 5,870,000 million, a progressive estate tax rate of 8% to 12% applies to every dollar above $5,870,000 million. Because the exemption is not transferable between spouses, when both individuals of a married couple die, the exemption remains at $5,870,000 million.

The federal estate tax applies only to estates valued at $11,870,000 million or more.

Do You Still Have Questions about Maine Inheritance Laws and Your Rights?

A minor mistake in your legal situation can cost you dearly. Don’t put yourself in danger by taking amateur advice or sorting through hundreds of Google search results on your own. When you can’t afford to be mistaken, let our estate planning attorneys help you get it right.

We mainly focus on estate planning, elder law, and special needs planning. Despite this narrow focus, our Maine estate planning lawyers are relied upon to advise clients on a wide range of issues and to intervene on their behalf in a number of administrative and civil proceedings.

We are never more than a phone call away, so give us a call right now!


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