What Happened to My Loved One?


When someone you love passes away inside a Maryland prison or jail, it can feel impossible to find out what happened. While the process for seeking death-related information can differ depending on the facility, this guide hopes to shed some light on where to start.

Important Note: This is general information, not legal advice. For legal advice, you must consult a private attorney. The information on this page reflect the rules in place as of October 2023.

What may Maryland jails and prisons require before releasing incident reports, medical files, and other records about your loved one’s death1?

  1. Court records showing you are the personal representative of your loved one’s estate;
  2. A written and notarized request for the records; and
  3. Payment for copies of the records.

Even if you are the personal representative, the facility may still deny records for various reasons. If your request is granted but you cannot afford the copy fees, you can ask for an income-based waiver.

For help, visit or call the local Register of Wills website (find your county office). You can schedule an in-person appointment. The required forms and a helpful guide are available online:

Requesting Death Records

How do you become the personal representative of your loved one's estate?

The Register of Wills may appoint you as personal representative when you create your loved one’s estate.

  • The Register of Wills is a government office elected in each county to manage local estates.
  • As personal representative you may have certain duties, such as locating other “interested persons” (including your loved one’s spouse, children, parents, siblings, and anyone they named in any will); helping to find financial information; and filing an “Information Report” (Form 1124) within three months of appointment.
  • An estate is simply the value of your loved one’s property and interests at the time they passed, including assets like cash or a house, and debts like a loan or restitution they owed. You can create a small estate when the value is less than $50k (or less than $100k if the only person who may inherit anything is a surviving spouse).
  • If you are primarily focused on getting records or filing a lawsuit (instead of property or money concerns), there may be a simpler process allowing you to create a small estate for litigation purposes only. Information about this option is not widely published, so be sure to ask about it at the local Register of Wills office.
  • If the Register approves the estate and appoints you as personal representative, you will receive a document called Letters of Administration – this is the court record showing you are the personal representative of your loved one’s estate.

Please see the link to Register of Wills Office forms above.

How do you create a loved one's small estate (and become the personal representative)?

  1. Confirm your “priority” and eligibility:

    If you have “priority” to serve as personal representative, that means you are first in line to take on this role. Unless your loved one (a.k.a. the “decedent”) named someone in a will, this is usually their closest living relative (like their spouse or child). If you do not have priority, the person who does can agree to you serving as personal representative instead (see Form 1118).

    Even if you have priority, you will only be appointed as personal representative if you are (a) age 18 or older; (b) not considered “mentally incompetent”; (c) free of any convictions for a “serious crime”4; and (d) a U.S. citizen (or lawful permanent resident related to the decedent).
  2. File the required paperwork:

    These documents must be filed with the Register of Wills office in the county where your loved one was “domiciled” (this generally means where they lived before incarceration, unless they were serving a long sentence): (a) your loved one’s death certificate; (b) the bill for your loved one’s funeral expenses; (c) any will your loved one had; and (d) the required forms, including (but not limited to):

    – Petition for Administration (Form 1103)
    – Schedule B (Form 1137)
    – List of Interested Persons (Form 1104)

  3. Pay any fees:

    There are generally no fees to create a small estate in Maryland. However, there may be some costs if your loved one’s estate exceeds a certain amount, or you are required to locate any creditors.

Please see the link to Register of Wills Office forms above.

Pro Tips

Please see the link to Register of Wills Office forms above.

Need More Help?

Visit ACLU of Maryland's "Ask for Legal Help" page.

Please see the link to Register of Wills Office forms above.

Additional Information

  1. Where can I find the rules for requesting prison and jail records?

    Certain policies and procedures may be available online. For example, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) oversees state prisons, and posts some of its policies on its website. This includes the DPSCS Medical Records Manual, which provides a written policy for requesting death-related and other medical records from a state prison (see Chapter 4).

    For information not available online, such as where to send a record request, you may try calling the facility and asking to speak with the facility administrator (the warden) and the medical department (for medical record requests). The facility’s phone number may be posted on the related government website (for example, the main number for the Frederick County Adult Detention Center is posted on the Frederick County website.

    You can also try submitting a written request to the facility under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA). The MPIA provides a process for accessing public information, including certain prison and jail records, policies, and procedures. Keep in mind a facility may still have additional rules under its own policies.
  2. What do I do if my request for death records is denied, or I cannot afford the copy fees?

    Some of the reasons a facility may deny records include an active investigation, confidentiality, or security concerns. If your request is denied for these or any other reasons, contact the facility about any available appeal process.

    If you cannot afford fees for copies of the requested records, try asking for a fee waiver by submitting an Affidavit of Indigency to the facility. A blank copy of this standard affidavit is available through the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.
  3. How do I access my loved one’s financial information for the estate process?

    You may need to file a request for a Limited Order (see Form 1147), which will require a company or institution to share financial records. If needed, the Register of Wills will help locate any creditors that may be owed money from your loved one’s estate.
  4. What counts as a disqualifying “serious crime” under the personal representative eligibility requirements?

    This may refer to a conviction for “fraud, extortion, embezzlement, forgery, perjury, theft or any other serious crime that reflects adversely on [your] honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness to perform the duties of a personal representative” (see question 7 on Form 1103). Even with such a conviction, you may still be eligible to serve if you provide “good cause,” or good reasons, why you should be appointed.

Please see the link to Register of Wills Office forms above.