A dispute between the Baltimore County Orphans Court and decedent's former wife was recently resolved by Maryland's highest court. The ruling by the Court of Appeal's highlights for Maryland Divorce Lawyers and their clients, a point made in one of my prior postings. Whenever, a party obtains an award under the marital property law incident to a divorce, it should be reduced to a judgment and perfected as a lien in any county where the debtor's real property is located. This should be done as soon as possible. In Elder vs.Smith, the former wife of Colonel Percy Elder received a marital award of $31,500 when the parties were divorced in 2002 following 26 years of marriage. Unfortunately the former Mrs. Elder waited until after the Colonel's death in 2005 to obtain a court order reducing the award to a judgment. She used that 2005 order to attempt to bloc the sale of a home in Anne Arundel County, the sole asset of the Colonel's estate and to claim the proceeds of that sale. The Orphan's Court that had ordered the sale issued an order against Ms. Elder to remove her lien. Over two
If Ms Beale had obtained an order reducing her award to a judgment and properly indexed and recorded in the land records of Anne Arundel County, in timely manner, it would have constituted a lien against the Colonel's real estate. Her claim would have trumped his other creditors. The Court ruled that after the Colonel died, no such lien could be established. Lacking the status of a lien holder, she was lumped in with the other creditors some of which may have had precedent over her. Examples of prior claims include funeral expenses, compensation to the personal representative, taxes and medical. The Court of Appeals apparently granted certiorari because there is a split of authority amongst the various states. This case resolves the issue in Maryland bringing it in line with the majority of states.