WILLS

The Calvert Recorder - - Com­mu­nity Fo­rum - Twit­ter: @CalRecTAMARA

The pair were pre­sented with a series of ques­tions submitted anony­mously by the au­di­ence, many geared more to­ward the pro­cesses be­fore pro­bate to in­clude what to pro­vide ci­ti­zens be­fore death and re­verse mort­gages.

“Don’t get me started on re­verse mort­gages,” Phipps said, draw­ing laugh­ter from the au­di­ence. “It is not the reg­is­ter’s place to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on re­verse mort­gages. The reg­is­ter han­dles the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the es­tate af­ter the death. How­ever, re­verse mort­gages can cre­ate an enor­mous prob­lem in es­tates.”

Phipps said fam­i­lies be­lieve they can keep the house but may not be able to, and urged peo­ple to look care­fully be­fore ac­quir­ing a re­verse mort­gage.

“I am a strong ad­vo­cate for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and I think the real so­lu­tion to it is to ed­u­cate the pub­lic be­fore the es­tate is [open] and be­fore the re­verse mort­gage wreaks havoc on the es­tate,” said Lynch, whose area of prac­tice is es­tates, trusts and pro­bate law.

Lynch agreed it is not the reg­is­ter of wills’ job, but said he rou­tinely teaches the pub­lic on the tra­di­tional pit­falls of es­tate plan­ning and that a bet­ter ed­u­cated pub­lic would avoid that in the es­tate process.

“I am ex­cited about the vi­sion I have for the reg­is­ter of the wills of­fice. I am a very strong pro­po­nent of elec­tronic ad­min­is­tra­tion of es­tates,” Lynch said in re­sponse to a ques- tion on im­prov­ing the pro­bate process.

The es­tate at­tor­ney said he is not a pro­po­nent of fil­ing wills elec­tron­i­cally, but is in fa­vor of au­tomat­ing the state ad­min­is­tra­tion process, much like the cir­cuit court sys­tem.

“It’s been shown to elim­i­nate up to 90 per­cent of pa­per stor­age,” Lynch said, not­ing that elec­tronic fil­ing in­creases data se­cu­rity.

Phipps said her of­fice is elec­tronic and has records and is work­ing to ad­vance that along. She said “a will is a very pre­cious doc­u­ment” and that state law does not al­low wills to be dig­i­tized, but that ev­ery­thing is elec­tronic in their sys­tem.

Four of the five can­di­dates for judge of the or­phans’ court were on hand at the fo­rum to demon­strate why they should be elected, or in the case of Les­lie Downs (R), Ted Le­Blanc (R) and Thomas Pe­la­gatti (D), re-elected to one of the three posts. Much of their time was spent ex­plain­ing what they do.

“What we are are the judges. If you go to court for some­thing you don’t come in and ask judges what you are go­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence,” Downs said, in re­sponse to a ques­tion on what the judges will do to ed­u­cate the pub­lic.

Le­Blanc, a Prince Fred­er­ick-based at­tor­ney, said if peo­ple do not un­der­stand how things work in the or­phans’ court they, should seek coun­sel.

“We hear con­tested cases and we help ad­min­is­ter the es­tates,” Le­Blanc said, ex­plain­ing the process. “Ms. Phipps’ of­fice will process es­tates and they do an ac­count­ing. That ac­count­ing comes to us. We will re­view it and we then sign an order or we don’t sign an order.”

Le­Blanc, who has been on the court for four years, said they also ap­prove the fees for at­tor­neys and per­sonal rep­re­sen­ta­tives and hear con­tested cases.

Pe­la­gatti, who has been a judge for 12 years, said the or­phans’ court “is a court of lim­ited ju­ris­dic­tion” set by state pro­bate laws. He said the ti­tle is very mis­lead­ing be­cause they do not deal with or­phans. Downs said it is left­over English law.

Pe­la­gatti, who is also a lawyer, said he has gone out with Phipps to ed­u­cate var­i­ous groups on the role and re­spon­si­bil­ity of both the reg­is­ter and the judges.

“We all stress that you should ei­ther have a will, write a trust [or] es­tate plan­ning, etc. It’s so much eas­ier down the line,” Pe­la­gatti said.

In re­sponse to the same ques­tion, or­phans’ court hope­ful Derek Sabedra (R) said “as a teacher the best way to learn is to go out there and ac­tu­ally do it” and ed­u­cate the com­mu­nity about the po­si­tions, sug­gest­ing ear­lier achiev­ing it through “fact find­ing and some work­shops.”

Demo­crat and Prince Fred­er­ick based at­tor­ney Tammy Fowler was not at the fo­rum due to a sched­ule con­flict.

All of the in­cum­bents stressed the im­por­tance of a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the reg­is­ter of the wills in re­sponse to a ques­tion on the en­ti­ties work­ing to­gether to the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity.

“Ev­ery­one here should re­ally thank their lucky stars. Calvert County has one of the best reg­is­ter of wills [and] judges of or­phans’ court work­ing to­gether than any other coun­ties,” Downs said, not­ing dis­cord in other coun­ties caus­ing a back­log in cases.

“The reg­is­ter’s of­fice is one hard-work­ing ma­chine,” Downs added.

Le­Blanc con­curred they have a cor­dial re­la­tion­ship and that “the reg­is­ter does the bulk of the work” Mon­day through Fri­day, while the court sits one day a week. Pe­la­gatti said they have an “ex­cel­lent work­ing re­la­tion­ship” with the reg­is­ter of wills, but said they do not al­ways agree on is­sues.

“We have to work in tan­dem. We have to be … sym­bi­otic,” Sabedra said, draw­ing a cor­re­la­tion be­tween Phipps and con­tact teacher in the school sys­tem.

None of the can­di­dates thought there were needed pol­icy changes that will ben­e­fit the pub­lic. How­ever, Pe­la­gatti ad­vo­cated for re­quir­ing or­phans’ court judges to be lawyers like in other coun­ties due to “com­plex­ity of is­sues,” sug­gest­ing that peo­ple like Downs, who is not a lawyer, should be grand­fa­thered in.

“This is not a train­ing ground. You can’t just throw a layper­son out here to train any­more. You have to have some ini­tia­tive and know what’s go­ing on,” Pe­la­gatti said.

STAFF PHOTO BY TAMARA WARD

“I am ex­cited about the vi­sion I have for the reg­is­ter of the wills of­fice. I am a very strong pro­po­nent of elec­tronic ad­min­is­tra­tion of es­tates,” said Repub­li­can can­di­date and An­napo­lis-based at­tor­ney Mark Lynch at the Calvert County League of Women Vot­ers fo­rum in Prince Fred­er­ick on Oct. 4. Demo­crat in­cum­bent Reg­is­ter of Wills Mar­garet Phipps lis­tens.

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