Key Differences Between Estates in Maryland and Estates in Pennsylvania

estate planning md pa

By: Dennis M. Twigg, Esq.
Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP

More and more, people are moving between Maryland and Pennsylvania. This article highlights a few major differences between Pennsylvania and Maryland from an Estate Administration. It’s important to be aware of the differences when draft a will or work on your estate planning documents.

1.     Execution of a will: When drafting a will, it is important to execute in a manner that makes it as easy as possible for your family to probate your will.  All wills should be witnessed by two competent and reliable parties, but in Pennsylvania you will save your heirs some paperwork by using a self-proving will. A self-proving will requires extra signatures and a notary.  Maryland does not have any provision regarding self-proving wills so if you executed a will and Maryland moved to Pennsylvania you may want to do a new document.

2.     Estate Tax: Prior to 2019, Maryland taxes some decedents who have assets less than the Federal Estate Tax exemption. In 2015, if you pass away with more than $1.5 million in assets you may have to file a Maryland Estate Tax Return. That number goes up each year until it matches the Federal Exemption in 2019. Pennsylvania has no Estate Tax for decedents that fall under the Federal Estate Tax Exclusion.

3.     Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax: With a few exceptions, Pennsylvania imposes an inheritance tax on inherited assets. Spouses do not owe inheritance tax and life insurance is exempt. The taxes apply on all assets: both probate assets in an estate and non-probate assets inherited by beneficiary designation or title.  Depending on the relationship between the decedent and the beneficiary, this rate can 4.5%, 12%, or 15%. This means that plenty of decedents need Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Returns filed upon their death.

If you move between any two states, it’s important to consult with an attorney licensed in the state where you’re moving. In the case of Maryland and Pennsylvania, it’s important to know about the differences in death taxes and the execution of documents, along with other matters that may be important for your own estate planning situation. In some instances, if your estate planning implications have great financial impact




Disclaimer – Blog Not Legal Advice – No Attorney-Client Relationship Formed by These Posts or By Any Comments, or By Comments Replying to Comments, on This Blog.

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances.  No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Past results are no guarantee of future results.

How to Manage a Divorce in Maryland

Maryland divorce attorney

A divorce is one of the most stressful times in anyone’s life. At times, it can feel like your human rights are being taken away from you.

How do you protect yourself during a divorce? What steps can you take to make sure your rights stay safe? Here are some tips that will help you do exactly that.

Immediately Contact an Attorney

Every day, family attorneys across America get calls from worried men and women saying something like this:

“I was just served divorce papers. What do I do now?”

Family law attorneys often specialize in divorce law. If you can find a good divorce law specialist, you should contact them immediately after you decide (or discover) you’re getting a divorce.

The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner you can take steps to protect your assets. One of the interesting things about divorce law is when couples have the same family attorney: the first person to contact that attorney and ask for their legal services will gain access to that attorney while locking out the other partner in the marriage. If you have a good family lawyer you like, contact them immediately before your spouse (or ex-spouse) does the same thing.

Here Are Questions You Need to Consider:

In regards to the marital home you share:

  • Who stays in the home?
  • Can one party buy out the other’s interest?
  • Should the property be sold?
  • What happens if one party puts a significant down-payment of their individual funds into the purchase of the property?
  • What if the home is titled only in one party’s name?

In regards to retirement benefits:

  • Are the benefits a “defined benefit plan” like a 401K or a 403B, or a “defined contribution plan” like a pension which provides monthly benefits over the life of the employee?
  • When were the benefits earned – before or after the marriage?

In regards to personal property:

  • How is the personal property going to be divided?

In regards to vehicles:

  • When was the vehicle purchased?
  • How is it titled?
  • Is there a loan outstanding?

In regards to debts:

  • How are debts going to be handled – loans, credit cards, etc.?

In regards to bank accounts:

  • Are they join or individual?
  • How many bank accounts?
  • How are each account used?

In regards to alimony:

  • What are the respective incomes of the parties?
  • What is the ability of the dependent spouse to become self-supporting?
  • What are the ages of the parties?
  • Are there any health issues?

In regards to health insurance:

  • Who holds the current coverage?
  • Will that party continue to provide coverage for the other party up to the date of divorce?
  • Is there an ability for the other party to stay on the coverage after the divorce?

In regards to tax returns:

  • Will the parties file jointly or individually?
  • How should any refund be divided?
  • Are there any advantages to filing jointly?

Keep Records of Everything

During a divorce, a single missing paper or document could instantly jeopardize your case against your spouse. If you want to have the best possible chance of preserving your rights in court and out of court, then you’ll want to keep careful track of all documents. Make copies, take pictures, and have backup copies in cloud storage.

Don’t Agree to Anything You Don’t Understand

One of the most important rules of divorce law is that you should never sign anything you don’t understand. Once you’ve signed a divorce settlement agreement, there’s no turning back: you’ve locked into the conditions of that agreement. Something as simple as your signature on a piece of paper could take your kids and house away from you forever – so make sure you have a competent lawyer read over everything long before you put the pen to paper.

Looking for a competent team of family lawyers in Carroll County, Maryland? Whether you’re looking for a family law attorney in Westminster or anywhere else in Carroll County, the law firm of Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad LLP specializes in protecting its clients’ rights and assets during even the most complex divorces.

You Slipped and Fell in Maryland – What Legal Rights Do You Have?

slip and fall maryland

If you slip, fall, and injure yourself in Maryland, are you owed compensation?

Not necessarily. Maryland slip and fall law is based on a fault system. This fault system means businesses and property owners are not automatically liable whenever someone falls and injures themselves on private property.

Instead, property owners are only responsible for dangerous conditions they are aware of, or should be aware of, but did not correct or warn guests about.

Every day, someone in Maryland is injured in an indoor or outdoor slip and fall accident.

Common reasons for indoor falls include sticky or slippery substances on the floors, unleveled flooring, torn/raised/worn carpeting, poor lighting, narrow stairs, defective escalators, obstructions like cords, boxes, fallen debris, etc.

The most common causes for outdoor falls include cracked, broken, or uneven sidewalks, slippery conditions due to snow, ice, or water, inadequate lighting, the absence of handrails, holes or depressions, and debris.

All slip and fall cases typically boil down to two things: proving liability and identifying damages.

Proving liability in slip and fall cases

When someone is liable, it means they’re responsible for whatever conditions caused the accident.

An individual or business may be liable for maintaining the sidewalk in front of their shop. Failure to clear snow from that sidewalk could cause a visitor to slip and fall.

Of course, as mentioned above, you can’t automatically assume that a third party is liable when you injure yourself on private property. In Maryland, that’s not always the case.

Instead, Maryland law requires private property owners to take “reasonable” steps to provide a safe premises for visitors.

One of the first steps of a premises liability case is determining the class of the visitor. Visitors typically fall into one of two different classes:

-Invitees: Invitees are on the property for the benefit of the property owner. A friend may be coming over for coffee, or a customer may be entering your business. You owe these visitors the highest level of care under Maryland slip and fall law.

-Trespasser: You owe trespassers very little under current law. In fact, your only obligation is to not create conditions which intentionally injury the trespasser.

Ultimately, it comes down to the injured individual proving liability in order to win compensation. Typically, this is done with the help of a lawyer.

The strongest slip and fall cases are when the property owner knew of the problem or should have known of the problem.

A parking lot may have numerous burned out light bulbs, for example, or the sidewalk in front of the store may have a large crack which has gone unfixed for years. These problems have been around for a long period of time. The private property owner either knew about these problems, or it’s safe to assume they should have known about these problems.

But this leads to a grey area and some difficult-to-prove situations.

If you’re walking through a grocery store, slip on a puddle of milk, and hurt your back, you may think you’re owed compensation.

But the puddle of milk was spilled by a customer just 30 seconds before your arrival. The grocery store cannot have reasonably known about this issue in such a brief period of time, which means they’re not liable for your fall under Maryland slip and fall law.

Defending liability claims

Property owners (or more likely, their insurance company) will typically defend liability claims using two different defenses:

-Contributory Negligence

Maryland is one of four U.S. states with this harsh rule. Contributory negligence will immediately defeat your claim. This rule means that if you contributed to your fall and injury in any way – even just 1% – then you are not entitled to receive any compensation under Maryland slip and fall law. You may have worn high heels when walking around on a skating rink, for example.

-Assumption of Risk

Similarly, assumption of risk means that you put yourself in a dangerous situation voluntarily and assumed the known risk, which can also defeat your claims to compensation. You may have walked outside on a below-freezing day, for example, which means you’re assuming the risk of walking on slippery surfaces.

To give your case the best chance of success, identify any possible witnesses – especially in the moments immediately after the incident. Write down all the details of your fall, including the shoes and clothing you were wearing at the time and the lighting in the affected area.

How much are you owed?

Your compensation amount depends on a few different factors, including the seriousness of your injuries, the length of time you’ve suffered (or are expected to suffer) from your injuries, and whether or not you will ever fully recover.

Typically, with the help of a good lawyer, you can win full compensation for your medical bills, the full amount of income lost as a result of your injury, and additional compensation for pain, suffering, and inconvenience.

Conclusion – How to proceed and win compensation

Maryland slip and fall cases can be complex. Because of Maryland’s slip and fall law, injured individuals are not automatically owed compensation.

Instead, you and your lawyer must prove that the property owner was aware of the condition (or should have been aware) and took steps to avoid fixing, alleviating, or warning visitors about that condition.

If you can do that, then you may be able to win compensation for your slip and fall case in Maryland. Since 1936, Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad LLP has provided intelligent and thorough legal support to residents across Maryland. Contact us today to schedule your case review session.

Five End of Year Giving Tips

By: Dennis M. Twigg, Esq.
Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP

With 2014 drawing to a close, it’s important to consider your tax situation. The holiday season brings a commendable impulse to give gifts and be charitable, but it’s important to consider the law to make sure your gifts help everyone they are intended to. Consider this a start, but if you have questions or complex situations be sure to consult an attorney for legal advice.

  1. The annual gift tax exclusion for 2014 is $14,000.00. This means that you can make cumulative gifts to one person of $14,000.00 without any tax consequences.
  2. Remember, the gift tax exclusion is per recipient. This means that both you and a spouse are eligible to make gifts to a single person.
  3. Be careful of making gifts to people with special needs. Many government assistance programs are need-based and recipients can be disqualified for having too many assets.
  4. If you want to set aside assets for a person with special needs, consider funding a trust for their benefit. A properly crafted trust can be used to financially supplement someone’s life without endangering crucial government assistance and benefits.
  5. Charitable giving can reduce your tax burden and help a worthy cause. When you donate, make certain that you follow IRS guidelines so that your good deed is justly rewarded. Keep records to prove that your donations went where they were supposed.







Disclaimer – Blog Not Legal Advice – No Attorney-Client Relationship Formed by These Posts or By Any Comments, or By Comments Replying to Comments, on This Blog.

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances.  No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Past results are no guarantee of future results.

How Do Courts Calculate a Fair Child Support Amount?

A divorce involving children adds emotional, practical and financial challenges to an already difficult process. Determining child custody leaves the non-custodial parent with a big question mark: how much will I need to pay in child support?

Child support payments provide for the normal expenses of raising a child — including food, shelter, medical care, clothing and education. Special needs and day care are also part of the equation. Maryland courts use approved Child Support Guidelines to calculate all cases involving child support payments.

Are Calculations Under the Child Support Guidelines Final?

Maryland courts generally consider the amounts calculated under the Guidelines to be the correct amount. Parties to a divorce may find it difficult to convince a court they should pay less than the guideline amount. However, either parent can argue extenuating circumstances to show that in their case the amount is not fair.

Experienced counsel can make a difference when determining your child support obligations. The attorneys at Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP have practiced family law in central Maryland since 1936. You can reach us by phone or online for help with your child support matter.

The Probate Process in Maryland

When former Maryland governor and mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer, died in 2011, he left $1.4 million to a civic fund in his name.  The Baltimore Community Foundation administers the William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund whose purpose is to make several grants each year for neighborhood improvement and beautification.  Schaefer appointed long- time friend and Schaefer chief of staff, Lainy Lebow-Sachs, as executor of his estate.  Lebow-Sachs knew her old boss well and understood his interests.  Schaefer’s involvement with the fund dated back to 1971 during his first term as mayor. “He took a keen interest in the operation of the civic fund, touring neighborhoods to see the progress of projects and sitting in on the grant selection process” said Lebow-Sachs. Schaefer made a good choice in selecting his executor.  Lebow-Sachs ensured that his wishes were carried out properly.

After a person dies (called the decedent) and leaves property for others, the process for distributing the property is called probate.  If the decedent had a will, then the probate process begins when anyone who has the Will files it along with several other items with the Register of Wills.

The type of estate forms depends on the value of the estate.  A regular estate has property valued over $50,000 — if a spouse is the sole heir, then the value of a regular estate is over $100,000. A small estate is generally valued at $50,000 or less — however, if a spouse is the sole heir small estate forms should be used if the value is $100,000 or less.  The small estate probate procedure is less complicated than that of the regular estate and usually takes less time.

Although the probate process in Maryland is fairly straightforward, it can be complicated by several factors, such as disputes or jointly held property. Our experienced Carroll County attorneys can provide you with quality legal services in estate administration.

Get Your House in Order: Update Your Will and Advance Directives

The Boston Marathon tragedy serves as a reminder that while we can’t control our destiny, we can take steps to prepare ourselves and loved ones for the worst.

Advance directives provide us with an opportunity to state our preferences for health care decisions in the event of our incapacity or pending death. It is a good idea to keep your Maryland Last Will and Testament, Living Trust, and Health Care Directive up to date.

The importance of a Last Will and Testament

  • Choice of heirs. Preparing a Last Will and Testament or Living Trust ensures that your property passes to your intended beneficiaries.  Without a will, the Maryland laws of intestate succession dictate who inherits the property titled in your name alone.
  • Choice of fiduciaries. You can decide who is in charge of handling the distribution of your assets, rather than leaving these decisions to Maryland law.
  • Disputes among heirs. You can decide how and where you want your remains to be put to rest and choose who serves as your executor (the person who ensures that your wishes are carried out). Planning ahead reduces disputes among heirs and allows for less stress during traumatic times.
  • Guardians for your minor children. You may appoint guardians to care for your minor children in your stead, rather than relatives making claims for custody and control of children’s finances.

The benefits of preparing an Advance Directive for Health Care Decisions

  • Choice of life sustaining medical procedures. Preparing an Advanced Directive for health care decisions (also known as a living will) allows you to share your decisions about ending or prolonging your life in different situations.
  • Appoint a representative. This valuable document indicates your preference as to who has the power to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

Estate planning, while not pleasant to think about, is a necessary part of protecting your family. Everyone, even young people, should prepare these documents.  Carroll County wills, estates, trusts and elder law attorneys at the law firm of Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP have years of experience and are ready to guide you through your planning process.

Grounds for Divorce in Maryland

Maryland law provides several grounds for divorce.  The following is a list and brief description of grounds for an absolute divorce:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion, if desertion continued for 12 consecutive months, was deliberate and final, and the parties have “no reasonable expectation of reconciliation”
  • Conviction of a crime in any state with a sentence to serve at least 3 years and the convicted spouse has already served 12 months before the filing for divorce
  • 12–month continuous separation when the parties have “lived separate adn apart without cohabitation
  • Insanity  under specified conditions
  • Cruelty to the spouse or minor child, and the parties have “no reasonable expectation of reconciliation”
  • Excessively vicious conduct toward a spouse or minor child and the parties have “no reasonable expectation of reconciliation”

Whatever your reasons for divorce, our experienced divorce attorneys can help you navigate through the process.  Contact Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP to be your advocate.

Our Aging Population: Addressing Its Health Care Needs

Researchers from Rutgers University predict that in the next four decades the Untied States will experience a shift in its population demographics.  Based on the results of a multi-disciplined study which included researchers with backgrounds in mathematical, behavioral  and social sciences, engineering and physics, the report predicts that the ratio of people over age 65 to people between ages 20 – 64 will increase by 80%. People will also live longer — to a life expectancy of 84.5 years.  Most people today live to age 78.

As the population ages, more families will seek ways to keep their elderly loved ones in their own community and out of senior facilities that people often associate with inefficiency and high incidences of injuries to its residents.  Statistics show that about 1 in 20 of  the estimated 1.5 million residents at nursing homes suffer abuse or neglect as a result of understaffed or poorly trained care providers.

On the other hand, seniors residing in their own homes fare better than they do in institutions. Experts say that there are a number of benefits to home care over the care provided in an institution:

  • One-on-one care — seniors receive personal attention from a home health aide or skilled registered nurse as opposed to being one of a number of patients at an institution
  • Living in familiar surroundings — moving can be very difficult for elderly people, especially those who have Alzheimer’s or other maladies.

Home health care services can be costly and Medicare does not cover nonmedical services.  However, long term care insurance may reimburse for some services.  With careful planning you can provide the care that best fits the needs of your aging loved ones.

If you have questions about long-term planning or suspect that an loved one is a victim of elder abuse, contact the dedicated attorneys at Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP.

FAQ – Marital Property Distribution

The process of dividing property between a divorcing couple ranks near the top of the stress scale. Maryland law provides for the equitable distribution of marital property. Through this process the court distributes both assets and debts. By court interpretation, equitable does not necessarily mean equal or require a 50/50 split.

The court maintains broad discretion to determine property distribution in a divorce. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions to help explain the process.

What is the difference between  non-marital property and marital property?

Marital property is property which was acquired during the marriage. Non-marital property is property or assets a spouse acquired before the marriage or as a gift. It can also be property excluded from equitable distribution by a prenuptial or other legal agreement.

What factors does the court consider when dividing property?

The court considers the following factors when dividing marital property equitably:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Age, health, skills and abilities of the parties
  • Amount of separate property owned by each spouse
  • Relative ability of the parties to acquire property in the future
  • Financial needs and liabilities of the parties
  • Contribution to the education or to the earning power of the other
  • Contribution to the value of the marital property or the separate property
  • Non-marital property
  • Financial conditions of each party
  • Tax consequences
  • Use and possession
  • Other factors that the court considers appropriate (like misconduct)

Can the court change a property title?

Except for pensions, the court may not change title to property.

How does the court divide marital property?

The court first determines what property is marital property.  If, in the court’s opinion, one spouse has an inequitable amount of property in his or her name, it can order a sale of jointly owned property and make a monetary award to the other spouse from the proceeds of the sale to make the split more equitable.

Will we be forced to sell our jointly-owned home?

The court may grant the parent who has primary custody of the children possession of the marital home for up three years. After that, the parties must agree on the market value of the home and all debts related to the property. The couple may sell the home and divide the proceeds or one spouse may decide to refinance the home and buy the other out.  If the couple cannot agree on how to sell the property, the court may order a sale.

Will I have to pay my spouse’s debts?

The court deducts marital debt from the value of the marital property. Maryland considers debt incurred to acquire marital property as marital debt.  Daily living expenses do not count toward marital debt. Separate debt, such as student loans that may have been acquired before the marriage, are generally allocated to the spouse who received the education.

Family law disputes take a financial and emotional toll on everyone involved. For experienced legal representatives who know the law and who fight for your interests, contact Rick Offutt, a Carroll County divorce attorney, at our office today.