Probate and real estate in multiple states

Probate and real estate can become even more complicated and expensive when a person who died owned real estate in multiple states. Since each piece of property is controlled by the law of the state that it’s situated in, your loved ones would have to go through probate courts in each of those states. For example, your mother was domiciled in Maryland, but she also owned a condo in Florida where she would spend four months a year during the winter. Your father predeceased your mother, and the condo title was in joint tenancy, so title to the condo automatically passed to your mother.

In her will, your mother left the Florida condo to you, but you own a vacation home in Arizona, so now you want to sell the Florida property. What comes to issue is that you can’t sell the Florida condo because you don’t have title to it. You now have to probate mom’s estate in both Maryland and Florida.

Ancillary probate

When there’s probate and real estate in another state, the process is known as ancillary probate. It’s highly likely that additional legal fees and court costs will be required. An estate would first be opened in Maryland where your mother was domiciled. After that estate is opened, and the will is admitted to probate, a second ancillary estate is then opened in Florida for purposes of a legal transfer of the condo title to you. Since mom’s will was admitted in Maryland, it’s likely that it’s also going to be admitted in Florida on an expedited basis. Once it’s admitted in Florida, a court order can be entered that allows you to sell the Florida property in your name.

Are there ways of getting around all of this?

You can probably avoid the burden and expense of multiple probate proceedings for your heirs. One solution is to own your properties in a living trust. All your properties would then pass automatically upon your death without the need for probate.

Mindy Felinton is an elder law and estate planning attorney with offices in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Delray Beach, FL. Estate planning consists of more than how a person’s estate will pass after he or she is gone, and’s not just for the wealthy. Talk with Mindy about probate and real estate. You’ll get straight talk and answers.