New Maine Probate Code effective September 1, 2019

The new Maine Uniform Probate Code adopted in 2018 becomes effective September 1, 2019.  The Maine Uniform Probate Code is a sweeping overhaul of the more than forty- year old probate statute for Wills, intestacy, probate, and guardianship and conservatorship, among other related areas of law. The law applies to all ongoing proceedings and Wills in existence with some exceptions. Clients and estate planners will have to consider the application of the new Maine Uniform Probate Code on existing documents and proceedings, as well as advising clients on new opportunities for non-probate transfers.

The new Maine Uniform Probate Code takes a united approach to Wills, Trusts, and other non-probate instruments, and focuses on the intent of the decedent. The statute now permits the Probate Court to consider evidence outside of a Will to determine the testator’s intent, and a Will or other governing instrument, such as a beneficiary designation, may be reformed to correct mistakes in limited circumstances.

The new Maine Uniform Probate Code contains many provisions to unify the rules of construction for Wills and non-probate transfers, such as Trusts, payable on death accounts and beneficiary designations of retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

The laws on intestacy, which identify which family members take from a decedent who died without a Will, has been modified. The elective share statute, which is the amount a surviving spouse is entitled to demand absent a valid pre or post marital agreement, has been increased based on the length of the marriage.  Exempt property and allowances have increased.

The amount eligible for collection of personal property by affidavit has increased from the current $20,000 to $40,000 and will now be adjusted for inflation each year.

The new Code also adds the Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act, which permits transfer-on-death deeds, a revocable beneficiary on a deed for real property which becomes effective upon death. These provisions will allow owners of real estate to pass their property to beneficiary(ies) at death without the need for a probate.

The most substantive changes to the laws are found in the new Maine Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Proceedings Act.  Maine is the first state to adopt the Uniform law and modified the Uniform law in some significant helpful areas. One of the underlying objectives is to make guardianship/conservatorship laws more person-centered and provide more guidance and monitoring to guardians and conservators. Supportive decision making and less restrictive alternatives are now front and center for every guardianship or conservatorship.  Guardians and conservators appointed on or after September 1 and existing guardians and conservators by court order have new annual and interim reporting requirements and new limitations in regard to moving a person or restricting access to a person under guardianship or conservatorship. Guardianships and conservatorships will be more complicated and will require more counsel and advice for the guardians and conservators to meet their duties.