They say it takes nine months to bring a baby into the world and nine months to see a person on to the next. There are reasons for that. Probate requires that the opening of an estate be advertised to overlooked children and random creditors.

Fair enough, I have always thought.

Dan’s Estate

Last Will and Testament

Dan remembered many in his will. Johns Hopkins University. His daughters, grandchildren, and a great-niece. My Tattooed Boy. Me, as well. I am as eager as any of them to get the balance of the estate distributed now that we are ten months into the process.

Neither the Registrar of Wills in Harford County, Maryland, nor The Baltimore Sun cares much on their part. Both, moreover, blame any snags in the process on the other and carry on about stalled legislation in the Maryland General Assembly, which concluded its 2024 session just a few days ago.

The Process

Here’s how it should go. The attorney opens the estate and contacts the Register of Wills in Harford County, where we lived. Derek Hopkins, is the Register of Wills. His face adorns a two-fold brochure that outlines the “Administration of Estates in Maryland.” Item 7 under “Small Estates” states that a “Notice of Appointment, Notice to Creditors, Notice to Unknown Heirs designating an approved newspaper for publication may to required.” The same language appears under item 2 for “Regular Estates.” I am confident Mr. Hopkins and his staff perform this task with some regularity in the course of their duties.

The Register of Wills forwards the notice to the “approved newspaper” which is hereabouts The Aegis, a subsidiary of The Baltimore Sun. The paper prints it a couple times, and interested parties have six months to contact the attorney of record.

What Happened

another fifteen minutes

Aware that tempus fugit and that time is money, the legal team kept asking for a bill for the job, a tear-sheet, confirmation that the notice had been published. The attorney, his associate, and his secretary all called, emailed, and otherwise contacted The Sun. Every single person there claimed that the notice had been printed and that the fee had been paid.

The receipt for $500 they kept mentioning, however, was I myself had submitted to The Aegis. The employee at the paper could not distinguish between an obit and the legal notice, they refused check the records, and lied that they had done so. That went on for almost ten months.

By Thursday, April 11, The Aegis confessed that the notice had never been published. It would be published now and just at the moment probate should have been concluded, the six-month clock started ticking.

Getting To the Truth

I finally reached a human with a name and a direct telephone number who though she could see the problem. From her point of view—and I give her credit for finding out as much as she did—she believed that The Register of Wills had failed to submit the notice to them. At all.

Mr. Hopkins was away from the Register’s office; two women dealt with my furor. Short woman tried to make this encounter about my anger and tall woman tried to explain things. Both pointed to the failure of the General Assembly to enact legislation that would make the process more efficient.

So Much Blame

The only people who appear to have done their jobs attentively and professionally are the estate attorney and his staff. Everyone else in this god-forsaken process? So, so, so many excuses.

Not one of The Sun staff who took phone calls or read emails thought repeated queries from the lawyer were significant. No one stirred themself to examine their records. That they couldn’t tell an obituary from a legal notice escaped notice. They didn’t look at their own bookkeeping or at the relevant issues of the paper.

Everyone at the Register of Wills knew of the difficulties publishing these notices. They had had more than a year’s hassles with The Sun, hassles that had snarled up many estates. Although legislation had been introduced in the General Assembly, no one could cite the name and number of the bill, or the name or names of the sponsors. No one deemed it a good idea to inform lawyers opening probate of a chronic issue like this.

Inertia, Inaction, a Total Lack of Interest

It didn’t occur to anyone at the Register of Wills to draft a brief note along the lines of, “FYI, we are having real problems getting notices printed in The Aegis. Legislation intended to improve the situation is stalled in the General Assembly. You may wish to check on the publication of your notice once a week or so to monitor its progress.”

Use some initiative? Energize two or three of the little gray cells they have that are still firing? Recognize that every individual in this cluster-f*** is responsible for the correct and prompt completion of the tasks?

Don’t be absurd.