Maine probate courts oversee the distribution of decedents' estates to their heirs. When a person dies without a will, thus leaving an intestate estate, Maine probate statutes govern how the intestate estate should be divided. Probate judges appoint personal representatives, also called administrators, to distribute intestate estates to heirs. Generally, an administrator must gather estate assets, pay estate debts and convey the net assets to heirs within approximately one year of appointment.
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Spouses, Children and Divisions
A decedent's spouse or domestic partner inherits his entire intestate estate, unless the decedent also leaves children. If the decedent and the surviving spouse or domestic partner share children, the first $50,000 of the estate goes to the spouse or domestic partner. Then, the spouse or partner split the balance with the children. If the decedent's children are not also those of the surviving spouse or partner, the spouse or partner inherits only half of the estate. The children share the remaining half equally.
More Remote Heirs
If a decedent leaves no spouse, partner or children, the state looks for the next closest relatives. Grandchildren, parents, grandparents and siblings are next in line to inherit. If none exist, the law defaults to more remote heirs, such as nieces, nephews and cousins in the closest degrees. If a decedent leaves no surviving relatives, his intestate estate is transferred to Maine's state treasury after approximately one year.
Missing Heirs and Estates
An intestate administrator must take reasonable steps to locate heirs. This includes publishing a notice of the pending probate estate in a local newspaper. If missing heirs cannot be found within the year, they can still claim an inheritance even after assets have been transferred to the state. Maine reports unclaimed inheritances on its official state website and offers assistance to help heirs claim their missing inheritances.
Closing an Estate
An intestate administrator must pay court fees, file estate tax returns and pay the estate's debts from its assets. She also must apprise the court of the estate's distributions to heirs. An administrator may charge a reasonable fee for her services. After all proper distributions are made, the administrator requests that the court close the estate. The court then enters an order discharging the administrator of her legal duties to the estate.