Maine law oversees the distribution of property after a person dies though its probate procedures, which, as of May 2011, the state requires for any estate valued at more than $20,000. During probate, the court verifies that debts and taxes have been paid and ensures the decedent’s property is distributed according to the terms of his will or, in the absence of a will, according to state law.
You must file the will within three years of the date of death with the County Register of Probate in the county where the decedent lived. If the decedent was not a Maine resident, file the will in any county where the decedent owned property (see Resources). The application for probate must include the name and date of death of the decedent and the names and addresses of anyone who might benefit from the estate.
Most estates may be settled through an informal probate process, but Maine requires formal probate proceedings if the validity of the decedent’s will is disputed. You may successfully contest a will if you can prove the decedent did not intend for the document to act as a will or did not have the mental capacity to make a will. Other grounds for invalidating the will include fraud, duress, undue influence, mistake or revocation.
The court appoints a personal representative, who must be at least 18 years old, to administer the estate and issues letters authorizing the individual to act on behalf of the estate. If the decedent left a will that identifies a personal representative, the court appoints that person. Otherwise, the court gives priority to family members and heirs, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner. The court may supervise administration of the estate in a formal probate proceeding.
The personal representative must make a complete inventory of the decedent’s property within three months of her death, file it with the court and distribute copies to beneficiaries of the estate. The personal representative collects income due to the estate, pays any outstanding debts and files state and federal returns for estate tax and income tax, as required. When these obligations have been met, the personal representative distributes the decedent’s property as directed by the will.
Closing the Estate
The personal representative completes an accounting -- including details of the estate’s income, debts paid, taxes paid and property distributed -- and gives the accounting to all of the estate’s beneficiaries. To close the estate, the personal representative files a statement with the court verifying that all claims against the estate have been discharged and that all beneficiaries of the estate have received copies of the accounting. The court closes the estate one year after the statement was filed.
Kate Fogle, an attorney and former English teacher, is the communications director for a non-profit agency in Stockton, Calif. Prior to recent articles on eHow.com, her writing has been published in-house for professional purposes. Fogle is a graduate of UC Davis with a JD from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall.