On July 26, 2021, the Rules Review Subcommittee of the Maryland Judiciary’s Committee on Equal Justice held its penultimate listening session, which focused on probate and estate law. The session was moderated by Donine M. Carrington-Martin, Associate Judge of the Charles County Circuit Court.
The committee was formed in June 2020, in an effort to build on the judiciary’s knowledge and proficiencies and to strengthen its commitment to equal justice under the law. The Committee is to recommend strategies to dismantle any discriminatory behaviors in all aspects of the Judiciary’s functions. It will identify necessary improvements, resources, and support services, and develop educational opportunities for ongoing Judiciary-wide engagement in the pursuit of equal justice for all. The Rules Review Subcommittee is one of six that was created under the broader Equal Justice Committee. Its goal, in particular, is to identify Maryland rules that, either in text or operation, affect people in communities of color or members of disadvantaged communities differently or disproportionately, or that raise equal justice concerns in any way.
The listening sessions are designed for members of the committee and the subcommittee to obtain input regarding how the rules have operated in ways that raise concerns regarding disparate treatment. This particular session was devoted to probate and estate rules, specifically those rules that may raise concerns of discriminatory behavior or result in implicit bias grounded in race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation.
The first speaker noted barriers that low-income people encounter in the probate process. Specifically, he noted that Maryland Code of Estates and Trust Rule 2-206, which pertains to the enumeration of fees, is not applied equally throughout the state, and many parties that meet the definition of poverty are denied a waiver of the probate fee. He also noted that the bond requirement imposed by Maryland Code of Estates and Trust Rule 5-604 presents a major barrier to lower-income parties in terms of probate as well, as their homes are frequently their only asset. Finally, he noted that the current definition of familial relationships denies people who have close and enduring ties to people they consider family members from being considered heirs of their intestate estates, and suggested that the definition needed to be broadened. The second speaker noted that imposes an inheritance tax on non-lineal descendants, pursuant to Maryland Tax General Rule 7-201, which is has a disparate impact on lower income individuals.