In order to find out what type of estate to open, you must calculate the value of the decedent’s property. This is important because Maryland law divides estates into two categories: regular estates and small estates, which require different steps and forms to be filed during the entire process.

There are three steps in calculating the value of an estate:

1.      Making a list of the value of all the decedent’s property

2.      Making a list of all of the “secured debt” that exists on any of the decedent’s property. 

a.       Examples of “secured debt” include:

     i.      A mortgage on the decedent’s home

    ii.      A car loan on the car’s titlle

    iii.      Various types of liens on any of the decedent’s property, etc.

    Note: It is important that only debt that involves giving a lender a “security interest” in the                                 decedent’s property is included here, and not debt from general creditors like credit cards.

3.      Subtracting the secured debts from the value of the property to find the “net value.”

Whether an estate qualifies as a small estate or is a regular estate depends on the net value of the estate, determined by the value of the decedent’s property, minus any secured debts.

Step 1: Making a list of all the decedent’s assets

This list of assets will only include “probate property,” which is the decedent’s property that will actually go into the estate. The list should not include “non-probate property” that passes to others outside of the estate, such as Payable-on-Death (POD) accounts and life insurance death benefits that are paid directly to one or more named beneficiaries.

The following questions must be answered to calculate the value of the decedent’s probate property:

1. What is the value of any personal property? (Tangible items such as jewelry, furniture, vehicles etc.)

·              Important note on vehicles: if the decedent owned a vehicle, they need to get the NADA or Kelley Blue Book value. Getting a copy of the value from the actual hard-copy books is better than using online printout of a Kelley Blue Book valuation. The Register of Wills office usually keeps the NADA and Kelley Blue Book on hand for reference. 

2. What is the value of any real property? (The term real property refers to a house and/or land owned by the decedent.)

  • First, find the assessed value of the real property on the SDAT website:
  • Then, check the deed to see how the property is titled.  If you don’t have a copy of the deed, you can go to, and search for the deed by the names of the owners listed on the SDAT printout.  Look for the following words:
    • fee simple
    • life estate
    • joint tenants
    • joint tenants with right of survivorship
    • tenants by the entireties
    • tenants in common

If the property is owned with any other person or persons as “Joint Tenants,” “Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship,” or “Tenants by the Entireties,” OR if the Person owned a “Life Estate” and did not own it in “Fee Simple” it is not included in the calculation because the decedent's ownership interest in that property ended at his or her death. In other words,  because the decedent’s ownership interest passes automatically to the other joint tenant, it is not included in the estate.  However, if the decedent survived the other joint tenant, the property will be included in the estate.

If it is owned with any other person or persons as “Tenants in Common,” take the total value of the property and divide that number by the number of the total number of people who own that property as “Tenants in Common.” That will be considered the value of the portion of that property the decedent owns for the purpose of this calculation.

If the decedent is the only owner of the property on the deed or the last surviving “Joint Tenant” (the owner is referred to as the “Grantee” on the deed) in “Fee Simple,” then the entire value of the property is included in the calculation.


3. Finally, what is the value of the decedent’s other non-tangible property that does NOT already go to a designated death beneficiary?

Add the value of each asset to calculate one figure of decedent’s assets.


Step 2: Making a list of all the decedent’s debts

Does the decedent’s house have a mortgage? You will subtract the remaining balance on any mortgage on the home from the home’s value.

Does the decedent have remaining car payments? You will subtract the remaining balance on the car loan from the car’s value.

Are there any other types of liens on the decedent’s property? You will subtract the amount required to satisfy the lien from the value of the property the lien is placed on.

Add the value of each debt to calculate the decedent’s total debts.


Step 3: Finding the net value and deciding how to go forward

To decide whether to file as a regular or small estate, you need to find the “net value” of the property.

 To do this, subtract the amount secured debts from the value of assets.

  • If net value is more than $50,000, the estate is a “regular estate.”
  • If net value is $50,000 or less, the estate is a “small estate.”
  • If the only heir is a spouse, the small estate status extends up to $100,000

For more information about how to open a small estate, continue onto this page

For contact information for Register of Wills offices in Maryland, click here


Sharon Martin and William L. Rodowsky, Practicing pursuant to Rule 16 of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Maryland – University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law (2014-2015).

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