Can I Enforce a Lien Against an Estate?

Think of this scenario: Somebody owes you $10,000. After trying, unsuccessfully, to work out a repayment plan, you decide to head to court. At the end of the hearing, the judge awards you a judgment for $10,000.  Time to celebrate, right?

Wrong. The monetary award is just the beginning of what can become a drawn-out collections process. A recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision just made the collections process slightly more tricky.

In Elder v. Smith, 412 Md. 288, 987 A.2d 36 (Md. 2010), the highest court in Maryland upheld a lower court ruling that a lien obtained after a property owner’s death is not entitled to the same treatment as a lien that attached prior to the owner’s death. In general, Maryland law prohibits the attachment or levy (lien) of estate property. This means that once a property owner passes away, a creditor cannot attach or secure a lien against the decedent’s property. However, Maryland law makes exceptions for interests that are secured prior to a property owner’s death. This court decision clarifies that secured claims may attach to property only while owned by an actual living person, and not an estate. In its decision, the court did not elaborate on the proper avenues for collecting on a monetary judgment from an estate.

Of course, it is impossible to predict when a person will pass away.  This recent court decision, however, provides just one more reason not to procrastinate when someone owes you money.  You must act quickly to protect your rights. If someone does owe you money, consult with an attorney to figure out how you may expedite the process to ensure your rights are secured prior to the debtor’s death.

Whether you are a personal representative of an estate, or trying to collect on a judgment against a deceased person, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney to determine the best method to protect your interests. We here at Delaney & Keffler, LLC will take the time to fully explain and discuss your options and so that you can feel confident in your decisions. Contact us today at 410-535-3476 (FIRM) or for a free consultation.

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Posted May 4th, 2011 in Estates & Trusts. Tagged: , , .

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