Ocean City Today

Register of Wills Cathell not seeking reelection in 2018

Endorses Chief Deputy Terri Westcott to succeed her, looks forward to traveling
By Brian Gilliland | Sep 14, 2017
Photo by: Submitted photo Charlotte Cathell

(Sept. 15, 2017) The election is still a year away, but for the first time in 20 years, Charlotte Cathell is not seeking reelection as the county’s register of wills.

Of the five terms she will have served by next November, she ran unopposed three times.

Cathell is a lifelong resident of Worcester County and is the first countywide elected official from Ocean Pines. She is married to retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Dale Cathell, and has two children and four grandchildren.

She is a founder and past president of Worcester G.O.L.D. and is on several boards of directors for local agencies and businesses. She’s done professional work for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources and was a deputy clerk for the Circuit Court.

“Choosing not to run is one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said.

During her tenure, Cathell said she concentrated on helping people.

“I’m a bit of a control freak with my focus on customer service,” she said.

The Worcester County Register of Wills is the local branch of a state agency, self-funded through the inheritance tax and probate fees, that ensures the provisions of a person’s will are executed, helps resolve disputes and acts as a clerk for the Orphan’s Court.

“If someone dies with an asset in their name alone, like a car, a checking account or stock, we ensure it’s taken out of the decedent’s name and goes to the rightful heir or legatee,” she said.

About half the time, she said, there is no will, so the decisions are left up to state law.

“Generally, it goes the way you think it does,” she said.

Though there are exceptions. For example, Cathell explained if an older child dies with living parents and there’s no will, the parents would get part of the estate — even if the older child had a spouse.

Usually things aren’t so complicated though.

“If the estate is worth less than $50,000 we have all the info and you can walk in and out of the office within a half hour, and that’s all you need to do. If there’s more, there’s going to be more paperwork,” she said.

Like the paperwork, Cathell said the office hasn’t changed much during her tenure. It got its first software package when she was first elected, and though it’s been upgraded and tinkered with over the years, it’s still essentially the same.

She said e-filing papers for her office is still a ways off. Cathell explained the clerk of the court generally gets the first upgrades, and when it’s all been tested and ready, her office follows suit.

That level of consistency allows her to suggest courses of action for families, and is becoming more important as people retire to the lower shore.

“When I go out to speak to civic organizations, I try to strongly suggest people let their families know what their wishes are so there is no question,” she said. “Tell them why you chose this person to be your representative over someone else. If the estate is not divided equally, tell them why it is that way — otherwise they’ll never know.”

Cathell and her staff can’t give legal advice, but they can assist in the process.

“It can be very intense. If there’s no will or the will disappears, we can get family members who do not get along trying to open the estate,” she explained. “We do a lot of mediation to try to avoid going to court.”

She said she also candidly tells people to plan their own funerals, and if they don’t know how, she’s developed a form to help figure it out.

“With so many people choosing to retire here, their kids may not know where everything is, like Taylor Bank. I have a form to list what things are, and where they are,” she said.

Cathell said her chief deputy, Terri Westcott, is going to run for the position and has her full support.

“If Terri is elected, who I wholeheartedly endorse, I know she will deliver the same level of service I expect,” she said.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.