When is a Will Executed in Maryland?

Making and using a will is the best method of having your will – that is, your intent – carried out after your death.  But just like will – the document – and will – the intent of the person signing a document – are the same word with different meanings, “execute” is a confusing term when it comes to making a will.

A will is “executed” when it is signed and made official.  A will is also “executed” when the wishes in the will are carried out and the assets are distributed.  Understanding both of these processes, when they occur, and what requirements must be met for a properly executed will is all very important if you are considering your estate planning or dealing with a loved one’s passing.

For help with your case, call the Maryland will and estate planning lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras today at (410) 694-7291.

What Does it Mean to “Execute” a Will in Maryland?

Confusingly, “execute,” as a legal term, has multiple meanings.  Law dictionaries will show several meanings, two of which can pertain to a will (as we are clearly not “executing” a will in the sense that we are putting the document to death).  The first definition means to carry out a plan from an order or contract.  The second definition means to sign and make a document official or complete.

With wills, we “execute” wills in both senses of the word.  When a will is signed and made the official “last will and testament” of the person signing it, it is “executed.”  A will is also “executed” when it is taken through probate court by the “executor,” and the instructions in the will are carried out, with assets distributed according to its terms.

As such, these two events are both “executing” a will, and they both take place at different times and have different rules and requirements.

Signing (“Executing”) a Will in Maryland

To form a will, you have to draft up the document with all of the terms and conditions you want in it and then “execute” it to make it an official document.

When to Write a Will

You can write and execute a will at any time.  Usually, this is done with the help of an experienced Maryland will and estate planning lawyer so that you can make sure the terms that you want in your will make sense for your situation and have the proper legal effect you intended.  However, as long as you are at least 18, you are never too young or too old to write a will – with a few caveats.  But it is ultimately better that you have one sooner rather than later.

When you write a will, you must be of “sound mind” and have “testamentary intent.”  This essentially means that you have to be mentally fit to make decisions and show that your will is what you truly want to happen rather than something you are signing without understanding it.  If you are getting up there in years, your mental acuity might be questioned if you are writing your first will in your 80s or 90s, so it is better to write a will while you are still younger.

One other consideration as to when you should write your will is that you might not need a will if you have minimal assets and no spouse or children.  The estate of younger adults will simply pass to their parents if they have no will – and married couples with no children will have their assets pass to the spouse and their parents (or just the spouse if they were married more than 5 years).  As such, you might be okay waiting until you have a house and kids and other assets before writing your first will.

Elements of a Properly Executed Will

As mentioned, the person writing the will must have “testamentary intent” for their will to be valid.  If you were not of sound mind, then your will is not validly executed.  Additionally, you cannot be coerced into signing a will; any wills signed under undue pressure or threats of violence are invalid.  Aside from these threshold rules, there are 3 requirements to properly execute a will.

First, a will must be written.  Maryland does allow “holographic” or handwritten wills, but only under limited circumstances for military personnel outside the U.S.  Otherwise, it should be typed.

Second, you have to sign it.  The “testator” must sign their will or direct someone to mark it on their behalf.  Digital signing is allowed, but it has special rules.

Third, you need 2 witnesses to sign the will saying they watched you sign it.  They do not have to know what document you are signing, and they do not have to be notaries.  Having more than 2 witnesses is better.

Carrying Out (“Executing”) a Will in Maryland

After someone dies, their will should be accessed and brought to court.  There, the “executor” – the person named in the will to “execute” the terms of the will – will be given power of attorney to handle the deceased’s assets and carry out the terms of their will after the will goes through the courts in a process called “probate.”

When to Carry Out a Will

The will’s terms are executed after the will goes through probate.  A will should be brought to probate promptly after the person’s death, usually within a few weeks.  The court process can also take a few weeks unless the will is challenged.  If that happens, probate and execution can take much longer.

Process of Carrying Out a Will

The executor will be given legal authority to access the deceased’s accounts and assets, put them into a trust, and distribute them as required by the terms of the will.  They must follow the rules precisely, or else the will and the executor’s actions could be subject to challenges.

Call Our Will and Estate Attorneys in Maryland for a Free Case Review

If you want to write a will or need help with a loved one’s will after they passed, call (410) 694-7291 for a free case review with the Maryland will and estate planning lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras.