Making a Better Register of Wills

Whenever I’m asked to speak at a civic, financial or senior group, invariably someone says, “What is the Register of Wills? What does your office do?”

My normal response is that we are the office that assists you in opening and managing an estate when a loved one passes away.
And my job is to run that office. But there’s more to it … it’s a work in progress. This office is responsible for appointing personal representatives and for monitoring estate progression. This includes appointing a personal representative from a will, or if no will, by using the Maryland statutes for intestacy matters.

Our duties are: assisting and advising the public in filling out forms; preserving records of any proceeding — from documents to the court compact discs of hearings; determining probate fees or if any inheritance tax is due; auditing estate accounting; verifying parties’ compliance with court orders; mailing notices and court orders to parties; providing clerk services to the Orphans’ Court; and safekeeping wills of living persons in our vault. These jobs also include answering questions from the public, attorneys and agencies without crossing the line into “legal advice.”

Many times this includes practical advice to the families to stop arguments and mediating between attorneys so as to keep the processes flowing.

When I arrived at this job in 2006, I left a 25-year law practice involving wills and trusts as well as five years as the law firm administrator. I had a program and an ability to translate that program to action.

I have accomplished two perfect state legislative audits, scanned the records back to 1875 and made them available at our electronic public kiosks, created an up-to-date website with a case search feature for access to case dockets and forms, installed an online order request feature for ordering documents, and created an electronic front desk management system driven by helpful people.

If you call or come in, there is a person there to help you — no appointment necessary. All staff are computer savvy and well-trained, guaranteeing you efficiency and virtually no waiting time. I added voice mail and email for faster service. I devised e-learning portals for staff to study work subjects at a higher level or to train for a back-up job or a higher position in the office.

More importantly, service is defined from the public’s point of view. To that end, surveys we hand out to the public and attorneys using our office indicate, respectively, satisfaction ratings of 99.34 percent and 95.61 percent.

We hold monthly meetings to discuss problem subjects in order to achieve creative solutions. To not inconvenience the public, all staff volunteer to come in one hour early prior to opening for these meetings.

By increasing our efficiency through these changes, we have reduced the average time to close an estate from 22 months to approximately 14 months resulting in faster distribution of assets.

Future projects are payments by credit cards (expected in July) and the first step in going paperless (starting October). We also are studying e-filing as our Circuit Court is the state test pilot.

Everything is a team effort of the staff — 30 people (and myself) who subscribe to the credo, “Public service is our culture, not just a department.” They are smart, well-trained, motivated, caring, compassionate people who want to serve and always put the public first. They are outstanding as both people and employees. Recruiting them and assembling them into a team for the benefit of the citizens of this county is my finest accomplishment.

I humbly ask for your vote in the June primary so I can continue my service.

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