By Tim Barkley. March 2016.
The smartphone on the desk erupted in a coruscant display and intermittent insistent buzzing. The readout said “Mrs. Jones.”
“Good afternoon, this is Tim,” intoned the lawyer. “How can I help you, Mrs. Jones?”
There was a silence. “Hello, Mrs. Jones, this is Tim. How can I help you?”
“Oh, it’s you! I expected to have to leave a message at this time of day.”
“You might have, but that’s not your luck today – you’re stuck with me in person. How can I help you?”
“You told me to tell you if I found anything just in my husband’s name. Well, I went to sell his Jeep and pulled out the title, and that’s when I remembered that he bought it alone – I had to work late the day he went to buy it, so he bought it just in his name.
“What do I do now?”
The lawyer responded, “Well, even though you are the only legatee under his Will – everything goes to you – and even though you are his Executor, you still don’t have title to his Jeep.
“You can imagine that a buyer would be a bit suspicious if someone named ‘Susan’ wanted to sell a Jeep belonging to a guy named ‘Mike.’ Mike and Susan might have the same last name, but that doesn’t mean that Mike wants Susan to sell his Jeep. Maybe they are separated and she is mad at him.
“The thing that gives you title after your husband’s death, so you can transfer valid title to the buyer, is not the Will, but a court paper called ‘Letters of Administration.’
“The buyer will need a certified or raised seal copy of the death certificate, a certified copy of the Letters of Administration, and the title, signed over by you as ‘Personal Representative’ of your husband’s estate. Then he or she can get the Jeep retitled.”
She objected, “Why do I have to go through all that rigmarole? Can’t the buyer just take the MVA a copy of the death certificate and the Will?”
“Sorry,” he responded, “wills aren’t self-executing in Maryland. Someone has to verify or prove that the Will is valid, and make sure that it is being followed and that everyone’s rights are being respected. Not everybody is as honest as you are, and not every situation is as simple as yours.
“The ‘someone’ who has to ‘probate’ the Will, or prove that it’s valid, and ‘administer’ the estate, or make sure that the Will and everyone’s rights are honored, is the Register of Wills.
“We need to take the Will, certified copy of the death certificate, value of the Jeep and ‘PAID’ funeral bill to the Register of Wills. They will issue the ‘Letters of Administration.’ Then you can sell the Jeep. The proceeds will probably just be yours, but …”
“But what?” she interjected.
“Well, that depends. Technically, the buyer should make the purchase check payable to the estate of your husband. Then we should obtain a taxpayer identification number from the IRS, open a bank account, deposit the check and then once it cleared write a check from the estate to you. Realistically, if the buyer will cut a check to you, that sidesteps a couple of steps and gets us to the same result.
“The only exception is if the value of the Jeep is greater than the sum of $10,000 plus the funeral bill. Is it?”
“Not even close.”
“Then if the buyer will write the check to you, we just need to get the Letters of Administration. If you find other assets just in your husband’s name, we would need to regroup.
“Do you want to do this, or do you want us to take care of it?”
“I’ll think about it,” she pondered. “I know I can do it, but I’m not sure I want to deal with it. I’ll get back to you in a few days …”
Attorney Tim Barkley
The Tim Barkley Law Offices
One Park Avenue
P.O. Box 1136
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