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By Jessica Walsh, Esq.


On October 1, 2023, Maryland’s registered domestic partnership statute took effect, marking a considerable stride towards inclusivity and recognition of diverse relationship structures in the State of Maryland. This update to Maryland law significantly affects the rights and privileges bestowed upon individuals after the death of a loved one.


Prior to this update, a domestic partner was essentially classified as a “friend” under Maryland law, regardless of the length of the couple’s relationship, as there is no “common law” marriage status in Maryland. Like a friend, a surviving domestic partner could receive a deceased partner’s assets only if directly named as a beneficiary in the decedent’s will. If the decedent never executed a will, a surviving spouse would be entitled to receive some/all of the deceased spouse’s estate, but a surviving domestic partner would not be entitled to inherit any assets that were solely in the decedent’s name – regardless of prior financial contributions. Further, anything a domestic partner did receive from their deceased companion would be assessed a 10% inheritance tax.


The new law recognizes the distinction between friends and committed, unmarried partners, finally allowing the latter to gain access to many of the legal rights and benefits available to a spouse after the death of a partner. For example, when someone in a registered domestic partnership dies without a will, the surviving partner can now inherit the same portion of the decedent’s estate as a spouse would be entitled to, including an amount “off the top” known as the family allowance. Likewise, in a situation where there is no will stating otherwise, a surviving registered domestic partner has the same priority to serve as the Personal Representative for the decedent’s estate as a spouse. Finally, registered domestic partners are now fully exempt from inheritance tax – regardless of whether or not the decedent died with a valid will – just like spouses.


It’s crucial to note that registration of the domestic partnership with the Register of Wills in the county where the couple is residing is required. The benefits and protections are only available to those couples who register while both individuals are still living – they cannot be awarded retroactively after one person dies. The registration form is available on the Register of Wills website, and simply requires that the couple pay a nominal fee and affirm in the presence of a notary that each one is at least 18 years old, is the only domestic partner of the other, is unmarried, and is in a committed relationship with the other partner. There is a separate process for terminating the domestic partnership, which can be done by mutual consent of both parties, by a declaration of just one party, by one/both parties getting married, or by one/both parties passing away.


Maryland’s new registered domestic partnership law advances estate planning options tremendously while fostering fairness, equality, and inclusivity within the state. At Liff, Walsh & Simmons, our estate planning attorneys can custom tailor an estate plan that addresses your unique circumstances, leverages laws and programs that can benefit you and your loved ones, and accomplishes your legacy goals and objectives as seamlessly as possible.




Jessica Walsh is an Associate Attorney at Liff, Walsh & Simmons and a member of the firm’s estate planning and administration practice group.


If you have questions on this article or another estate planning or administration matter, our attorneys are here to help. Please contact Liff, Walsh & Simmons for assistance. 

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Jessica Walsh

Ms. Walsh is an Associate Attorney and member of the firm’s estate planning and administration practice group. Ms. Walsh assists in the firm’s diverse practice areas in matters involving estate planning, estate administration, and end-of-life issues.

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