In Maryland, the Orphans' Court is the court in which probate proceedings will occur. Probate is the legal process in which a person's estate, if not held in a trust, will pass on to the person's heirs. Sometimes, this process runs smoothly. However, it is not unheard of for probate disputes to come up at some point during the probate proceedings. When this happens, an Orphans' Court judge will hold a formal hearing.
There could be a number of reasons why a formal hearing will be held. For example, an heir may claim that a will or codicil -- that is, an amendment to the will -- is invalid. Another example is if an heir disagrees with the size of his or her inheritance as contained in a person's will. A dispute can also occur if there is a disagreement as to what claims will be paid by the decedent's estate and in what amounts. An heir can also dispute who should be named as the personal representative of the decedent's estate. Moreover, a dispute could arise with regards to whether the personal representative is duly performing his or her duties, and in such cases, whether the personal representative should be removed. Finally, disputes can take place concerning how much the estate attorney or personal representative should be paid.
Like any other hearing, the judge in a formal hearing before the Orphans' Court will take into account any evidence or testimony presented. The court will then apply the facts of the case to state law to come to a resolution. Such disputes can be emotional affairs, and Orphans' Court judges understand this.
Requesting a formal hearing can be difficult for a person who is already grieving the loss of a loved one. Because of this, retaining an estate planning attorney may help families understand what their rights are.